On Honesty and Loving our Neighbor

“To believe in something, and not to live it, is dishonest” (Mahatma Gandhi). 

“Honesty is the first chapter of the book wisdom” (Thomas Jefferson). 

“But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to ever man’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Cor 4:2). 

As I walked into Walmart today I pushed the lock-button on my key-fob. As my car beeped, telling me that it was now locked and secure, I suddenly realized that my unconscious and habitual action was in response to a presupposed negative assumption and possibility that someone might steal from me while I was in the store. Without even thinking, I assumed dishonesty.

I have spent many, many hours contemplating the state of a just and honorable society, but it wasn’t until my subconscious distrust became a conscious reality that I realized how much a dishonest society really affects my daily choices.

It is hard to imagine how effective and efficient a society of truly honest individuals can be. No more pin numbers, no more security questions, no more policemen, no more locking cars, no more home alarms, etc., etc., etc… What would that possibly look like? Today, hundreds upon hundreds of billions of dollars are spent annually in the pursuit of security and protection from the dishonest practices of individuals who are dishonest, irresponsible, and unaccountable. Almost every law, rule, and regulation is attached to a social problem brought about by dishonesty. Ironically, most laws nowadays are also in violation of the very principles they’re trying to protect against.

It is an interesting thing to ponder whether honesty brings about personal responsibility and individual accountability – which I have written on here and here, and which others have written here – or whether active responsibility and willing accountability bring about honesty. I tend to believe that honesty is the root of responsibility and accountability.

At the root of honesty rests the principle of love. The lack of honesty in an individual demonstrates the lack of love within the dishonest heart towards their fellow man. Is it any wonder why Christ said that the two greatest commandments were pertaining to love?

Master, which is the greatest commandment in the law?

Jesus said unto him, Thou Shalt love the Lord thy god with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

This is the first and great commandment.

And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.

On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets (Matt 22:36-40).

In the absence of love there is fear, as we are taught

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love (1 John 4:18).

As I beeped my car locked today, can I be responsible of not having a fullness of love? Are my actions of defense a demonstration of fear induced because of the absence of love? Surely I can protect my property from supposed inherent threat, right?

When, as a teenager, I first read the book Les Miserables, I was deeply influenced by the words and worldview of Bishop Myriel, the fictional priest responsible for inspiring – through Christlike service, trust, compassion, and love – the individual changes within Jean Valjean, who refused to lock his doors at night to secure the Church’s “property”. When the Bishop’s housekeepers pressed him on the issue, worrying for their safety and security, the Bishop responded with the following scripture from Psalms,

Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain (Psalms 127:1).

Is the Bishop’s worldview naïve? Can we not protect ourselves? Secure ourselves?

I would answer, no, yes, and partially yes.

I find that the Bishop’s worldview is in line with that of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Ghandi, who preached the realistic nature of the virtue of brotherly love in society. While there are evident principles in scripture surrounding self-preservation and defense, we must not automatically suppose that such stories and examples constitute celestial principles. In other words, there are more things to consider between what is better and what is best when using righteous men’s actions in scripture.

Consider the realism of Christ’s message of loving our enemies as seen through the lens of a Hindu. In the movie Gandhi, we see Gandhi himself teaching a Christian minister the realism of Christ’s own words.

Doesn’t the New Testament say: If your enemy strikes you on your right cheek, offer him the left? I have thought about it a great deal, and I suspect that he meant you must show courage; be willing to a take a blow, several blows, to show that you won’t strike back, nor will you be turned aside. And when you do that, it calls on something in human nature, something that makes his hatred for you decrease and his respect increase. I think Christ grasped that, and I have seen it work.

Physical defense is one way of defense, yes, but is it a necessary or even the best way? May there be a difference between better and best ways of protection from the dishonesty of others? Are there other ways of defense that, while the best, are often hidden in the seeming obscurity of faith; ways that are not seemingly realistic until after the principle is lived?

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 (Ether 12:6).

Society at large is built on the premise of distrust – distrust that comes because of the lack of responsibility and accountability, which comes because of the lack of honesty, which comes because of the lack of love, which, in turn, brings about fear.

Take, for instance, the basis of our entire legal system. God has stated that governments were instituted for the benefit of man to (1) make sure that man is not in bondage one to another man (D&C 101:79-80), (2) that the inherent and inalienable rights of men are secure against encroachment (D&C 134:1-5), and (3) that those who do encroach upon another are rightfully and justly dealt with (D&C 134:8). Each of these reasons presupposes a society of individuals (1) who do not love God with all their heart, might, mind, and strength, and (2) who do not love their neighbor as themselves. Consider a society that does love God and their neighbor who acts honestly one with another (1:04:30 – 1:07:00).

In short, government exists due to the vacuum that is created by individuals who do not have enough faith to love. Because of this, we become a dishonest society of individuals who do not consciously think twice of our unconscious, habitual, and automated actions that prepare and secure us against harm.

Some might argue that only a small percentage of the population actually steal and are intentionally dishonest, but this does not answer the entirety of the problem – especially considering my own experience of habitual and unconscious actions brought about through automatic distrust and fear.

But how do we solve the criminal element? How do we secure ourselves against dishonest practice?

In light of these questions, I often think of Joseph Smith’s reply to the Elders of Zion’s Camp who were about to destroy a rattlesnake that had appeared in the camp. Said Joseph Smith,

In pitching my tent we found three massasaugas or prairie rattlesnakes, which the brethren were about to kill, but I said, ‘Let them alone—don’t hurt them! How will the serpent ever lose his venom, while the servants of God possess the same disposition, and continue to make war upon it? Men must become harmless, before the brute creation; and when men lose their vicious dispositions and cease to destroy the animal race, the lion and the lamb can dwell together, and the sucking child can play with the serpent in safety.’ The brethren took the serpents carefully on sticks and carried them across the creek. I exhorted the brethren not to kill a serpent, bird, or an animal of any kind during our journey unless it became necessary in order to preserve ourselves from hunger.

If the animal kingdom would follow the righteous disposition of man in throwing down the “brute creation” and becoming “harmless”, what might this example do to the criminal element? Our example may have more power than we initially believe, as our own nature’s must necessarily change to have the faith to act in kindness, honesty, and patience with our fellow man.

As per our physical security, we are taught that our desires for security can only be realized and found through Christ. No earthly security is so finely crafted as to ever provide absolute security. With true security comes us eternal joy, for as Elder Robert D. Hales said,

As children of God, our deepest hunger and what we should be seeking is what the Lord alone can provide—His love, His sense of worth, His security, His confidence, His hope in the future, and assurance of His love, which brings us eternal joy.

There is no security in man’s defense against dishonesty, and since most reliance on our own preservation constitutes idolatry. We often place false trust in the realms and protections of God, as we place low or completely dismiss the power of God unto deliverance. Hugh Nibley noticed,

The kings and priests who rush officiously to the defense of God, with hue and cry against the sinners, do not trust God either to fight his own battles or to make his own judgments. When Pope Stephen III wrote Pepin to come to his rescue because “save for thy mighty arm we have only God to help us!” he certainly rated the power of God very low—”only God,” forsooth!

Said President Spencer W. Kimball,

We are a warlike people, easily distracted from our assignment of preparing for the coming of the Lord. When enemies rise up, we commit vast resources to the fabrication of gods of stone and steel—ships, planes, missiles, fortifications—and depend on them for protection and deliverance. When threatened, we become anti-enemy instead of pro-kingdom of God; we train a man in the art of war and call him a patriot, thus, in the manner of Satan’s counterfeit of true patriotism, perverting the Savior’s teaching:

“Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

“That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:44–45.)

We forget that if we are righteous the Lord will either not suffer our enemies to come upon us—and this is the special promise to the inhabitants of the land of the Americas (see 2 Ne. 1:7)—or he will fight our battles for us (Ex. 14:14D&C 98:37, to name only two references of many). This he is able to do, for as he said at the time of his betrayal, “Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matt. 26:53.) We can imagine what fearsome soldiers they would be. King Jehoshaphat and his people were delivered by such a troop (see 2 Chr. 20), and when Elisha’s life was threatened, he comforted his servant by saying, “Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them” (2 Kgs. 6:16). The Lord then opened the eyes of the servant, “And he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.” (2 Kgs. 6:17.)

In our confrontation with the threats of dishonest the natural man turns to his own solutions of protection and self-preservation; yet the penitent and humble follower of Christ turns to something else entirely. Herein is the true mastery of the priest in Les Miserables and in such earthly examples as Gandhi. The absolute epitome of this principle are the Anti-Nephi-Lehis who would accept death before returning violence in their own protection; such actions are more than expressions of penitence, they are examples of eternal knowledge unto true deliverance and security (Alma 24).

How strange it is, indeed, that a supposed small part of society who actually actively participates in dishonest acts have such an overwhelming effect on society at large – as to make our general actions habitually distrusting. In this, as my own examples serves to show, I am a primary example.

That said, the truth is before us that our righteous actions – performed out of love and honesty – have a positive effect on changing the disposition of society that we cannot see or prove until after its performance and accomplishment. We are justified in defending and protecting ourselves, but, in this, we must realize the best way in realizing that man’s way is certainly not God’s way (Isa 55:8). As the world turns to acts of self-preservation, the pure in heart will seek for the best alternatives of God’s protection and security that only Christ brings. Finally, as Elder Neal A. Maxwell once noted, we must never expect that the world’s solutions to the world’s problems will be very effective.

The Lord’s way of solving dishonesty in both ourselves and in others is to act out of love – true and Christlike love. In love we dispel fear, and through dispelling fear we may act honestly with each other in establishing true personal responsibility and individual accountability.