Sunday, February 26, 2023

True Witness


When we think of the commandment to not bear false witness, we often think of it as a commandment not to lie, and that is one valid application. However, we should do more than just avoid deliberately spreading false information; we should also strive to avoid unintentionally doing so as well.

When I was a kid, I remember watching Muppet Classic Theater, in which the Muppets performed several classic fairy tails. One of the stories they told was The Boy Who Cried Wolf, but with one key difference. In the original fairy tale, the shepherd boy is bored, so he pranks the townspeople multiple times by claiming he saw a wolf when there was none. In the Muppets version however, the shepherd (played by Gonzo) isn't deliberately dishonest. Instead, he just overreacts to tiny things and jumps to conclusions rather than getting all the facts straight, rushing to warn the townspeople about some impending disaster (including flood, earthquake, and plagues of insects) that then never materializes. In both the original and the Muppet version of the story, when the wolf eventually does show up, the shepherd runs to warn the town, but they don't trust him. But in Gonzo's case, his character flaw was not that of lying, but of not making sure what he was saying was true before telling it to others.

If we're not careful, we too can fall into the trap of unintentionally spreading false information. We naturally want to warn others when we suspect something might be wrong. But in the heat of the moment it's easy to forget that we don't always see things accurately. And while we might have good intentions, the consequences of being careless about the truth can be just as damaging as if we had intentionally lied. Spreading false information can damage reputations or or encourage harmful actions. And even if we happen to get it right, developing a habit of carelessness increases the chances of getting things wrong in the future.

Being careless about the truth could manifest in a number of ways:

  • Assuming that someone is guilty before learning all the facts,
  • Assuming that someone's actions are motivated by malicious intent,
  • Sharing a fact, quote, or statistic without checking its source,
  • Sharing a news story or article without verifying that it is accurate,
  • Sharing a news story or article without even reading it,
  • Presenting something as established fact when it is actually a matter of opinion or still being researched,
  • Implying another source is unreliable without providing a valid reason for skepticism,
  • Etc.

This is not to absolve others from their own responsibility to vet the accuracy of what they see, read, or hear. But we make that task easier by not inadvertently giving false information further paths to spread. We don't need to have absolute certainty before sharing something. And even the most careful individual will make mistakes. But by making a conscious effort to spread truth and not error, our ability to discern what is truth will grow stronger with time.

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Feed My Sheep


After His glorious Resurrection and before ascending again into Heaven, Jesus met with his apostles and commissioned them to take His gospel to the world. In St John 21:15-17 we read that he told Peter, "Feed my lambs," and "Feed my sheep".

We too have been called to feed the Lord's sheep in our day (see for example D&C 50:13-14). To effectively do so ourselves, it is instructive to consider how a shepherd would feed his own sheep. Does he give every sheep exactly the same food? Does he feed them all in exactly the same way? If there is a lamb that is reluctant to eat, does he mock or belittle them? Does he perhaps try to force the food down their throats, or just abandon them to fend for themselves?

I think it's clear that Jesus, the Good Shepherd, would not only be supremely patient with each and every lamb, but would also know exactly what each one needs and feed each one in whatever way would be most beneficial for them. Likewise, each one of us requires spiritual nourishment at the time and in the manner that will be of most benefit to us. That means progressing a little at a time, "milk before meat" (1 Corinthians 3:2), or "line upon line" (Isaiah 28:10, 2 Nephi 28:30).

Some lambs need to be bottle fed, and aren't yet able to handle grain or grass. Likewise, those who are new to the Gospel, including children and recent converts, might rely heavily on parents and teachers to learn and grow their understanding.

As the sheep mature, they are led to safe pastures where they can graze for themselves, though their diet may occasionally be supplemented by hay, oats, and other foods for added nutrition. So can we, after they have developed their own testimonies of the Gospel, provide environments where we, along with fellow followers of Christ, can continue to learn for ourselves on a daily basis, while still receiving specialized instruction from time to time.

Finally, some sheep may not always eat when they are expected to. A caring shepherd will learn the difference between a sheep that is sick and in need of special treatment, and one who simply needs a little more time to feel hungry enough to start grazing. If there is someone in our lives who seems reluctant to receive the spiritual nourishment of the Gospel, we can  still provide them with a spiritually safe and judgement-free environment, ample opportunities to participate in and learn the gospel, and reassurance that they are loved no matter what.

The principles of the Gospel are the same for all of God's sheep. But we all benefit from personalized, one-on-one care and instruction.

Sunday, June 26, 2022

No divisions

At times, it feels as if our world has never been more divided. Such divisions may be superficial, political, religious, or ideological in nature. It's easy to justify divisiveness when we convince ourselves that the other side is wrong, misguided, stupid, or even evil. But what does God want for us?

During His great Intercessory Prayer, Jesus prayed to the Father that He would "keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are" (St. John 17:11, emphasis added). In the Pauline epistles, we find numerous admonitions to be united in Christ (see for example 2 Corinthians 13:11, Galatians 3:28, and Ephesians 4:3-5). And members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have similarly been warned, "If ye are not one, ye are not mine" (D&C 38:27, emphasis added).

Certainly God wants us to remain separate from incorrect doctrines and harmful traditions. But there are many things that we can unite on:

  • Christians of different denominations may disagree on certain teachings about the nature of God and the precise interpretations of His commandments, but we can agree on the importance of accepting Christ as our Savior and seeking to know and do His will.
  • Members of different political parties may have very different ideas of what is best for the future of our nation, but we can agree on certain desirable outcomes, such as a strong economy, healthy population, protection of personal freedoms, etc. and we can work together to determine the best way to secure these outcomes.
  • Parents sometimes have different opinions about the best way to raise, teach, or discipline their children, but they can still be united in their love for their children and their desire to find whatever methods work best for their children.
  • And so on.

This is, of course, a two-way street; if we encounter someone who isn't willing to put a good-faith effort into being more united, our own efforts alone will not be enough to bridge the divide. But even then, we can do our part to not open any existing divides even further.

Why then is unity so important? I can think of at least two reasons: avoiding the damage that comes from a lack of unity, and harnessing the power that comes from embracing it.


Entropy is the process by which the universe becomes more disorganized over time. Physicists tell us that the universe is expanding, and that the rate of expansion is accelerating. Eventually, everything will be moving away from each other so fast that not even light will be able to travel from one body to another without being completely lost. As galaxies, stars, planets, and eventually individual particles continue to move further and further apart from each other, eventually the universe will reach a point where there is no more interaction between anything at all. All the same mass and energy will be there, but it will be completely disorganized. Homogeneous. Inert. Dead. Unable to ever do anything useful or interesting ever again.

While this eventual "heat death" of the universe may be countless billions of years away, we can see its parallels in our lives today. The farther apart two people, political parties, or organizations drift from one another, the less likely they are to interact in a way that produces positive change. In addition, once two groups have separated from each other, schisms often begin to appear within the groups themselves, further reducing their effectiveness.

Entropy is accelerated by heat. When particles are heated up, they break apart and spread out much faster than particles in a more stable environment. "Social entropy" is also caused by a type of heat; when we treat one another with contempt rather than compassion, we move farther apart. Eventually we reach a point where we lack the cohesion required to achieve a desirable outcome; so much energy is spent on generating heat rather than results.


Many of the forces that cause divisiveness come naturally. However, it's also tempting at times to deliberately fan the flames. Anger and hatred have been used to motivate the masses to take action. Historical and even scriptural accounts are full of examples. While the outcomes may not have always been positive, it can't be denied that they were frequently powerful. Much like splitting an atom, stirring up people to anger releases a tremendous amount of energy that can be harnessed towards accomplishing one's desires. Unfortunately, there are dangers in this approach. The nuclear reaction required to split an atom may be powerful, but they are also dangerous. Under certain conditions, a nuclear reaction could get out of control, causing a tremendous amount of damage. Also, even when the process goes smoothly, the byproduct is toxic nuclear waste that damages anyone who so much as gets close to it.

But we don't need to sacrifice effectiveness in the name of "keeping the peace". Consider the opposite of splitting an atom; that is, nuclear fusion instead of fission. Nuclear fusion is the process of combining two atoms into one. It produces much less radioactive waste. In spite of this, we don't currently have any power plants that produce energy by nuclear fusion. That's because the process is difficult to sustain for long periods of time. But scientists are still looking for a way to pull it off, because the nuclear fusion releases many times the amount of energy released from fission, making it a highly sought after source of abundant, clean energy.

Finding a way to work together may take a lot more effort than splitting people apart. But the times when we've managed it in the past, we've accomplished amazing things. Our potential for accomplishing good is much greater, and the risk of doing harm is greatly reduced.

We can accomplish the work that God wants us to do much more effectively when we make the effort to do it together.