Friday, July 4, 2014

Balancing Zealousness with Concern for Others

On this day of unabashed patriotism, I want to share the following that has application to that topic, as well: 

There is a fine line between zealousness and fanaticism. I think charity is the delineator of the two - and, unfortunately, people do many things "out of love" that aren't at all charitable.

I look at the Golden Rule, and I can't help but wonder how (the collective) we would feel if our non-Mormon acquaintances acted toward us the way we sometimes act towards them - or if we learned that they talk about us the way we sometimes talk about them. I look at how some people interact with their "wayward" children and wonder how they would react if their parents weren't members and interacted that same way with them (their own "wayward children").

I believe in zealousness when it is manifested in a righteous manner, but I also have to be able to look at my own actions (and the actions of others as examples) and see the difference between righteous zealousness and something else. For example, I am concerned whenever I hear or read anything like the following - which I read in a comment a couple of years ago:

(In order to be zealous,) we have to stop worrying about “the other guy” and worry about how God views us.

Frankly, I think we have to be concerned about the other guy AND about how God sees us, specifically because if there is one lesson in all of our scriptures I believe it is that "concern for the other" is absolutely central to the Gospel and mission of Jesus Christ. I agree completely that concern for how others see us can't get in the way of doing the right thing, but I also believe that "doing the right thing" without regard for "the other guy" often (and I mean very often) leads to doing the wrong thing in the name of righteousness. I don't need to use extreme examples of that principle; regular, daily examples are all around us.

I believe that being righteously zealous is not a simple thing that can be measured by a universal checklist. I need to be concerned with my own zealousness and whether my own zealousness is acceptable to God - and, for me, that absolutely must include a deep, central, strong element of how my actions in the name of God impact "the other guy" - since charity is the heart of my own measure of my own righteous zealousness.

One example to illustrate my point:

I love and admire Captain Moroni, but he was wrong - 100% dead wrong - in his chastisement of Pahoran during the war he was fighting. He didn't write that letter out of righteous zealousness; he wrote it out of frustration over seeing his soldiers die unnecessarily. (Those are his own words, not my assumption.)  He wrote it in anger - and the condemnation in it of Pahoran was unfounded. Captain Moroni was described by Mormon in the abridgment as a "perfect man", but he erred in that instance when he wrote that letter (which does not contradict Mormon's assessment of him). The letter was not charitable; it was not accurate; it was not in line with the standard articulated in D&C 121; it was not sensitive to the plight of a friend, supporter and fully righteous man; it was not a righteous judgment; it was not an example of "being moved upon by the Holy Ghost"; it was not an example of righteous zealousness.

Again, I admire Captain Moroni deeply, but I admire Pahoran even more deeply in that example - since he easily could have reacted very differently. It was Pahoran, not Captain Moroni, in that situation who "saved the day" - and he did it explicitly by remembering, in a time of great stress and distress, to "think of the other guy" and not return threat for threat. He did it by remembering the pure heart behind the mistaken accusations and not holding Moroni's mistake against him. He did it by loving the man even though the man's words must have cut him deeply. He did it by not being zealous in the traditional, stereotypical manner but by being zealous in love and meekness.

I believe in zealousness, but I also believe it is manifested differently in different situations and that, for me, at the very core, it absolutely involves "worrying about the other guy" in a very real and important way. I believe charity is the balancing agent between righteous zealousness and unrighteous fanaticism - and, if I have to choose between one extreme or the other, I try to choose to be overly charitable rather than overly fanatical.


Jeffrey said...

I for one completely agree with you! And you are right, examples of unrighteous fanaticism are all around us.

Carey said...

What are your thoughts regarding being too extreme the other way?

I guess over the last few days I've noticed some "extreme" positions that in the name of being charitable to others they are effectively giving ultimatum to the church. I now realize this might not be the same as giving God an ultimatum, but even though I empathize with their plight there's something about their focus of one particular issue that overshadows everything else. Of course I do my best not to judge because I'm not always in the same position of them, so its not a matter of judging them but its a matter of still having commitment to gospel (and the church) in spite of its faults.

Papa D said...

Carey, I generally am not a proponent of extremes in either direction.

In some, limited cases, I think an extreme is appropriate, but I believe deeply in the general concept of moderation - and charity tends to disappear the closer one gets to any extreme. Also, the Golden Rule tends to point away from extremes.

I believe growth is most available in what I like to call the Muddle in the Middle - not that I am middle-of-the-road in my own views on lots of things but that I relatively rarely reject completely different views and categorize them in extreme, negative terms.

Papa D said...

Also, I believe the scriptural admonition to avoid being lukewarm but instead be hot or cold is BADLY misunderstood and misinterpreted by most people.

It doesn't mean to be an extremist - or that any extreme is better than moderation. Back then, water that came directly from a source was either hot or cold (picture a hot spring and a mountain stream) - while irrigated water that flowed to cities from a distance became lukewarm (neither hot nor cold) as it moved farther from its source. Thus, being hot or cold and not lukewarm meant being connected directly and close to the source rather than farther from it.

Carey said...

"The muddle in the middle"

I like that.

Carey said...

I think I've found that more I've studied the less rigid I've become and the more I've actually put into practice my professed beliefs the more understanding and charity I've felt. This way of living is what is what keeps me in the muddle of the middle.

Frank Pellett said...

I think, as Mormon got older and more experienced, he got a little less passionate as a fan of Capt Moroni. Early on, we get a lot of "isn't he the paragon of manhood?" (Not to mention naming a son after him), but as Mormon goes through his own wars he begins to see Capt Moroni's flaws. We get more stories about Helaman, then eventually a bare mention of casualties.

Zealousness can be exciting and inspiring, but eventually is very tiring. A good fire can be nice on a cold night, but you have to watch that it doesn't start to singe the curtains.