To Live Freely: Part Eight

I am concluding the section of this study where I examine the ways that we set others upon false foundations and all the negative consequences that follow. I’ve considered individual cases thus far, but now I want to turn my scope broader. After all, one way to prove the invalidity of a proposition is to apply it on a universal scale and then see if it maintains its original appeal. With today’s post I will hold the philosophy of the “helpful lie” to this universally-applied metric and see what the result of it is.

Applied in Reverse)

Suppose a religion were to have as one of its tenets that all other religious persuasions ought to be suppressed or destroyed. Clearly things would not work out so well for the members of that same religion if everyone else adopted the same principle towards them! It is a self-destructive policy, because it cannot be applied in reverse without destroying the originator. On the other hand, a religion having a fundamental tenet that there should be religious freedom for all others would be itself benefited and protected if the same principle were applied back to it again.

So I say to the person that believes in using beneficial lies to protect other people, you would do well to consider how you would feel if this same principle was applied back towards yourself, and also universally to all other people. You might say that you are comfortable with people telling you the same sort of lies that you tell to others, but that isn’t a fair comparison. Your idea of what is okay to lie about is your own personal opinion, so to be consistent you would have to be accepting of other people using their own judgment as to what is appropriate to lie to you about. Also, you might feel you could trust the decisions of those who are equal to you in intelligence and morality, but that also isn’t a fair comparison. You are less intelligent and moral than some of those that you lie to, so you must consider how you would feel being at the mercy of those who are less intelligent and moral than you.

Does that sound like a comfortable proposition, being subjected to the false realities concocted by the basest and meanest of society, entirely according to their own opinion and judgment? I’m certain it does not!

When one supports themself in telling a “white lie,” they give all other people permission to do the same, and that’s really not a trend that ought to be being perpetuated. On the other hand, when one firmly decides to tell the truth, they revoke the right of all others to lie. If enough of us were to insist on truth-telling for ourselves, and renounce lying on the part of others, we would likely start to see a ripple of truthfulness throughout our society. Convictions, once held by enough people, influence even those who have not become totally committed to them. And even if we don’t reach the point of mass adoption, at least those who perpetuate honesty will be living in a accordance with a principle that is constructive, not destructive.

Lies Upon Lies)

But let us go back to this notion of lies being told at all levels of our society. I have already discussed in a previous post how a lie, by its definition, separates everyone that stands upon it from the ground level of life as it really is. Everyone who believes in the lie is now out on a ledge which might break under its own weight, particularly as more and more people take residence upon it.

And now, extend that with the realization that many people who are already founded upon a lie are also telling additional lies upon it. People are exponentially multiplying the confusion, carving out more and more from the true foundation, extending ledges out upon ledges, building their deceitful worlds without any knowledge of where the center of balance even is. At some point, we will have the straw that breaks society’s back, and all will crumble in violence and chaos.

And I’m not merely saying that from a theoretical perspective, I believe the notion is borne out by a simple examination of history. I feel that these compounded lies are the only way to explain such collective insanity as was seen at Auschwitz and the Gulag. The deceit might have seemed “harmless” enough at first, a simple mischaracterization of national pride or social inequity. But then that deluded premise was compounded with faulty reasoning for how to address the issue and aggressively expanded by the masses taking hold of the idea, until an entirely untenable reality was force upon millions, killing countless of innocents and eventually collapsing the entire experiment under its own weight.

The only system which is sure to be equal and fair to everyone, the only one that is sure to be founded on solid bedrock, is the one that stands firmly on the ground of the truth. That truth may be unpleasant, and without any simple solutions, but dealing with it directly is the only possible way to make genuine progress. All other strategies are temporary structures, at times very pretty, but all of them doomed to fall.

To Live Freely: Part One

Axiomatic Truth)

There is a concept that has come up a few times in my previous series, including the last one. I have spoken to the matter in brief here and there, but now I want to consider it more fully. The concept is that living in the truth is the foundation for a full and happy life. Said another way, facing the facts as they really are is the only way to be truly free. Said a third way, only those who are willing to face the truth unflinchingly are ever truly alive.

This is a principle that is basic and fundamental to life. It is so foundational that sometimes it is difficult to really get a grasp on it. Axiomatic truths are, by definition, self-evident in their truthfulness, requiring no argument to prove them. That’s all well and good, but it means that if you then try to explain why an axiom is true you’re going to have a very hard time of it! Explanations tend to lead to circular logic, such as “living in truth is the foundation for a full life because…it just is!”

One way to come to full appreciation of these fundamental truths is to look at them in reverse. Fundamental truths are prerequisites for many other things in life, and by examining those things that are built upon foundational truth we obtain evidence that the underlying axiom really is true, for if it were not the things that we have observed could not be. We find that the fundamental truth is necessarily true, because it is necessary for it to be true for other observable things to be so.

Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.... Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. -Matthew 7:17-18, 20

Jesus describes the same idea in these verses where he teaches that we may recognize that which was good by whether it brought about good or not. So if we want to know whether “a life founded upon the truth is joyful and free” is a true statement or not, then we merely have to look at those who live in harmony with this belief and see what sort of life they possess. I will begin my series today by doing exactly this. I will look at an example of people who are built upon this axiom, living their lives with the assumption that it is absolutely true. We may observe the reality of their lives, and infer whether they built upon a solid foundation or not.

The Happiest of People)

I have mentioned before how the addiction-recovery groups I have attended are singularly focused on living in harmony with truth. Any addict working a twelve-step program can tell you that one of its most fundamental tenets is that we take a fearless inventory of our lives, facing all of the unpleasant and difficult truths in our character. Where most people attempt to cherry-pick their best qualities and define themselves by those, addicts in recovery open the door to all of their qualities. We do not care if the description of us is pleasant, only that it is true.

And what comes about by this strict adherence to seeing things as they really are? For an answer, let me offer an anecdote that occurred to me personally. I was speaking with an ecclesiastical leader about my efforts to overcome my addictions, and my time spent in my recovery group. As soon as he heard that I was part of a twelve-step program he said to me, “you know, I’ve never been a part of such a program, but I have been a witness to its meetings and its members, and those are the most humble, most sincere people I have ever met.”

The reason why the twelve-step program has grown at such incredible rates since its inception is entirely due to the quality of the men and women one meets when they walk through the door. People see men and women who have not only gained freedom from the most terrible of vices, but who also live with a clearness and a joyfulness that simply isn’t to be found anywhere else. Furthermore, the fact that that light has remained consistent throughout the decades and continues to burn brightly in every new generation of members is a testament to the fact that the happy way of life was not due to some pre-existing condition in the first AA members, but is cultured in its members from the principles that they live by. If people had not seen throughout the years that these people had uncovered a superior way of life by their principles, then no one would have stayed and joined the crew, and it would have been a long-extinct experiment.

It was the evidence of this joyful peace that also drew me into the ranks of the twelve step program. It might seem a counter-intuitive thing to say, but I quickly recognized that I had never seen a happier, more satisfied, and more productive people, than these addicts who sincerely identified their miseries and their flaws. One would have thought that bringing out those heavy truths would have crushed them, but so far as I could see those weights, once surrendered, were being taken away, so that they could live free and unfettered. They attested that one had to truly see their shackles before they could receive the key to undo them. Though I was not then converted to the notion of living my life strictly in harmony with the truth, I was persuaded enough by what I saw to give it a try. My result has been much the same as theirs.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. Even if you don’t consider yourself an addict, go and visit a few of the local meetings in your area. See for yourself what manner of men and women these are, and what sort of lives they lead. Granted, every group has its own culture and its own level of sincerity about the work, but attend a few different ones and you will quickly see that there is a clear correlation between those that genuinely face the hard truths and those that live joyful and free.

A New Foundation: Part Two

Weighing Down)

Yesterday I shared about the broken and divided foundation that is exposed in a marriage when a secret addiction is brought to light. Every positive experience from the past was at least somewhat predicated upon a lie. Every good and decent thing that the addict ever did is tarnished.

And not only is the past thrown into disarray, but also the present and the future. I pointed out how even the most sincere and genuine acts of kindness from the now-truthful addict can be a trigger to his wife, reminding her of all the false and manipulative overtures he made in the past. Yes, today his actions might be blameless, but they are linked in her memory to the actions that were not.

Thus, the husband trying to repair the marriage with acts of goodness is like trying to fix a crumbling building by stacking new floors on top of it. Those new floors might be sound and whole, the very finest of design, but their added weight is only going to hasten the collapse and soon the whole thing will come down, good and bad parts alike.

The addict and his wife are stuck in a situation where anything they do to try and prop up the falling structure only sets off more problem areas. Finally, they might realize that they have to stop trying to save a fundamentally ruined structure. And, counter-intuitively, that might just be the thing they need to save their marriage.

Letting Go)

I have known many couples in recovery that just admitted that their marriage had failed, stepped back from the problem, and watched it collapse at their feet. And then they started talking about how to build a new one. They realized that they could start the relationship over from scratch. They could pour a new foundation there at ground zero.

The old marriage vows were now a sham, they had been broken to the point of losing all meaning. So rather than trying to revitalize them, why not renounce them for the empty promises that they were and make all-new commitments instead? The couple’s memories are marred by the Jekyll-and-Hyde performance of the addict weaved through them all. So why not accept that those memories’ former luster has been lost and start making new ones instead?

It can be such a relief to realize that you don’t have to solve this architectural problem at all. You don’t have to marry two opposite realities together. You can instead assign all that was flawed and broken to the past and all that is hopeful and good to the future.

Some of the couples I have known that made this discovery bought new rings, had a new vow ceremony, and started counting their anniversary from the day they recommitted themselves to one another. It might sound like a strange thing to do, it certainly goes out of the normal convention, but really why not? It is an irregularity that is more congruent with life as they were experiencing it. Perhaps they didn’t realize it at the time, but so much of their confusion was because they were trying to fit stereotypes of love and marriage that didn’t fit their situation. There’s nothing to say that you can’t and shouldn’t alter the signs and symbols of love and marriage to match the one that you actually have before you.

In Due Time

Before I close off this topic, I must point that none of the couples in our recovery group took this step on day one. It would have been hugely premature to say, “let go of the past and hold on to now,” when “now” was still totally enmeshed with the “past.” Most of us addicts were still learning how to even live soberly from day-to-day, and it wouldn’t do to make new marriage vows that wre then broken a second and a third time.

It is prudent to wait until you are actually ready to live the new life before you make a solemn symbol of it. Better to not start pouring the new foundation until you have learned the fundamentals of architecture. Better to not say it is for real this time until you really mean it. And not only that you mean it right now in this moment, but you know that you will still mean it tomorrow.

Put another way, it is good to commit to the better future, but neither of you can do that until you are first ready to totally let go of the past.

A New Foundation: Part One

The Trauma in Disclosure)

I’ve spent several weeks discussing different aspects of addiction and its effects on a relationship. I’ve talked about the journeys of both the perpetrator and victim of abuse, and the anger in the spouse after she learns how the addict has been secretly acting out behind her back. Today I will continue with these themes and analyze one other aspect of addiction and relationship, that of rebuilding a marriage after the initial trauma of disclosure.

It is essential for every addict to make a full and complete disclosure to his wife. Given that he may have decades of shameful behavior hidden away, it may not be possible or prudent to list every offensive action he has done, but he should be willing to go into as thorough detail as his wife asks of him. She has the right to know all the things that he should have been telling her over all the years. At the same time, the addict must understand that this disclosure is going to cause significant trauma. She deserves to hear the truth, but it’s likely to rock her to her very core.

After such a disclosure, it is entirely possible for the wife to question whether the marriage can continue at all. Even if the husband is sincere about his desire to recover, she may feel that irreparable damage has been done. One of the most common feelings a wife will describe is that all of their marriage had been built upon a lie. Every tender and sacred moment she thought she had with her husband is now marred by the fact that he was lying through his teeth all along. It is as if the man she thought she loved in all of these memories has suddenly been replaced with a monster she never knew. Where once thinking of these times gave her joy, now they only bring sadness.

Different Views)

As for the husband, his view is totally different. Yes, he knows he lied, and probably some of the memories with his wife are also marred by the shame of living a double life, but also he knows that some of those moments were truly genuine. He didn’t fake everything. His love for his wife was real, and many of his acts of kindness to her really came from an authentic place. Indeed, it might be that genuine love for his wife is a key reason for why he is fighting this addiction now. Recovery work takes one to some very scary and painful places, but he’s willing to go there in order to save the best part of his life, including his relationship to his wife.

And the fact is, neither the husband nor the wife is wrong in their perspective. Neither one of them should feel that their view of reality is invalid because it isn’t shared by the other. The wife really has had her whole life thrown into disarray. Even if her husband says certain moments of their past were real to him, that doesn’t mean they have to be real to her still. Similarly, the husband should not be required to deny the real moments of poignancy from his past. Just because the whole marriage has been painted black in his wife’s eyes doesn’t mean that he cannot have a more nuanced view of it.

Often the result of these disparate perspectives is that the husband and the wife struggle to know how to continue building their marriage. The foundation of their love is divided and eroded, and it feels like every good thing they try to add just breaks it apart even more. For example, a kind gesture from the husband might actually be hurtful because it causes his wife to remember how kind gestures in the past were part of his manipulation. Similarly, anniversaries and milestones might feel like phony celebrations of a sham relationship, undermining the sense of accomplishment rather than building it up.

Thus, it can become very hard to sort out the real from the fake and come to a shared vision of the past. Indeed, in many cases, the couple will find that it is impossible to resolve their different perspectives. Ironically, it is by coming to accept that the marriage is broken and cannot be repaired that a couple can finally save it. I realize that might sound paradoxical, but come back tomorrow as I will explain what I mean.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 2:1-3

1 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.

2 And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made.

3 And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.

A great work never seems complete until we have settled back and looked long and hard at what was accomplished. A garden of crops, a finished basement, a manuscript, a college diploma…all of these need a moment for us to appreciate what has been done.
The thought occurs to me that sitting back and appreciating the creations of God is an excellent way to observe the sabbath, too. After all, the whole point of this seventh day was to cap off that work of creation, so what better way to commemorate it than by immersing oneself in it?
I also want to point out that while this seventh day was the end of God’s creation, it was only the beginning of mankind’s creations. Everything that we fashion on earth is built on the foundation of what He created first. Therefore I think it wise to view the sabbath in that light, too. We should have it be the foundation of our week, the cornerstone that everything else is built upon, not a garnish off to the side of everything else.

Optimism in a Falling World- Moroni 7:40-42

And again, my beloved brethren, I would speak unto you concerning hope. How is it that ye can attain unto faith, save ye shall have hope?
And what is it that ye shall hope for? Behold I say unto you that ye shall have hope through the atonement of Christ and the power of his resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal, and this because of your faith in him according to the promise.
Wherefore, if a man have faith he must needs have hope; for without faith there cannot be any hope.

COMMENTARY

How is it that ye can attain unto faith, save ye shall have hope? If a man have faith he must needs have hope
In my previous post I spoke of the need for faith, and how it is to be exercised before we even see the path to success. Faith is not founded upon knowledge. As these verses suggest, it is founded upon hope. For while we may not know how good will triumph over evil and a lost soul will be saved, to act in faith we must hope that these things can and will happen. God does not unveil to us His master plan, but He often does show us a corner of it, enough so that we can have hope in the rest.

And what is it that ye shall hope for? Ye shall have hope through the atonement of Christ and the power of his resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal
And as with my last post, our hope is not meant to be founded upon anything earthly or mortal. Frankly what makes us believe in the salvation of mankind is not what we see in mankind, only what we see in God.
This verse speaks of having hope in the atonement and the resurrection, in being brought from this fallen state to one of eternal life. And first of all we are meant to have that hope of reclamation for ourselves. Then, when we feel the reality of it, we are meant to have that hope for all our fellow man as well. For if I was once able to be so lost, yet was found, then these others are not beyond hope either.

Optimism in a Falling World- Ether 12:4, 6, 12

Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God.
And now, I, Moroni, would speak somewhat concerning these things; I would show unto the world that faith is things which are hoped for and not seen; wherefore, dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.
For if there be no faith among the children of men God can do no miracle among them; wherefore, he showed not himself until after their faith.

COMMENTARY

Whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works
Today I am considering the role of faith in remaining committed to our fallen world. And the first point I want to make is what we have to found our faith in. It is not a trust in humanity that these verses call “an anchor” to our souls, it is a belief in God. Throughout this study I have been speaking about maintaining our hope and faith in the world, but now I realize that those are secondary things, symptoms that come from first being rooted in our trust for God. See how this verse lays out the order of things as “believe in God” and then have a “surety of hope for a better world.”
Thus if you find it impossible to view the world optimistically, perhaps stop trying to do so. Instead cultivate your trust in God and the rest will follow. We will stop being motivated not by a shaky trust in the triumph of man, but in a sure trust in the triumph of God.

Faith is things which are hoped for and not seen; Ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.
If there be no faith God can do no miracle; wherefore, he showed not himself until after their faith.

And if, when we view the world, we see nothing to convince us that it can be saved, so be it. For faith is things that are hoped for and not seen. We would not say that we had faith in the reclamation of mankind if we could already see the path by which it would be accomplished. The whole point of faith is that we can invest ourselves towards the saving of humanity, with our minds unable to fathom how good will come out of it, but with our hearts believing that it will. That is working by faith, and as this verse explains that is the prerequisite to the miracle.

A Surety of Truth- Numbers 23:19, Mark 10:18

God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?

And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God.

COMMENTARY

God is not a man, that he should lie; hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good
And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God.
Previously we spoke of building ourselves on solid foundations, and yesterday we considered the folly of relying on our own self for that. We have to find external sources that we can trust, ones that we can ever be sure of for support and demonstration.
And as today’s verses illustrate, that reliable source is not found in any human. No person is a perfect foundation to build on. It is good to have friends and it is good to glean from the example of noble souls, but they cannot be the core of our faith. I have come to realize that the greatest value of mentors is simply for them to point the way to God, as He alone can provide that sure foundation.
And that applies to me, too. I am a father, and I want to always be a help and support to my children. But because I am mortal, I know that they will have needs that I cannot provide for, there will be times that I let them down, there will be examples of mine that would lead them astray, and there will be moments where my absolute best just isn’t good enough. If I want to be a good father, I must encourage them to detach their reliance on me, and put it instead on the Lord.

A Surety of Truth- Matthew 7:24-27

Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:
And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.
And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand:
And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.

COMMENTARY

A foolish man built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it
Sooner or later, we all seem to have a moment in life where the house of cards we carefully built comes crashing down all at once. It could be because of our own folly, or because we put our trust in unworthy sources, or simply due to unforeseen storms. In any case, if we are built something unstable, then there is nothing to catch us as we fall, and so we drop until we hit rock bottom.
And often in these circumstances we don’t even think that there’s any problem until everything falls apart. So long as everything is still standing upright, we believe they always will.

Whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:
And the rain descended, and the floods came; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.

The difference between being built upon the rock and being built upon the sand is whether we are built upon our own power, or upon that of a higher being. The simple truth is that we can do our absolute, genuine best….and that just isn’t good enough. That’s not a criticism of any person, it is a fact of being a part of the human race. The last thing we want is to be limited to our own best. Not when His best is an option instead.