Liberty Library: The Enoch Letters, by Elder Neal A. Maxwell

Originally published as Of One Heart: The Glory of the City of Enoch, Elder Neal A. Maxwell wrote a powerful and thought provoking short-book of only 78 pages retitled as The Enoch Letters that redefines the discussion surrounding liberty and freedom.

Following the same pattern as C.S. Lewis’ classic work The Screwtape Letters, Elder Maxwell writes his book as the one-way conversation of Mahijah — a name borrowed from the Pearl of Great Price (Moses 6:40) — to his friend, Omner, describing his initial contact with the prophet Enoch and his subsequent entry and building of Zion.

Few people know that Elder Maxwell was a trained political scientist and that he served for many years in political capacities. As such, for those versed in political philosophy, the The Enoch Letters reads as a hidden and implicit political and philosophical treatise on how a Zion-society is based and created on true and correct principles consistent to our humanity, liberty, agency, and identity as children of God. He dispels the popular notion that social order comes at the cost of individual liberty, and that liberty must sacrifice itself upon the altar of order when he writes that:

Their [the people of Enoch] love of their God seems to move these people to a greater love of their fellowmen, and Enoch is not only a preacher of righteousness, but also a performer of righteousness. The small band who follow him claim that among them liberty does not rob order, and order does not mock liberty.

Throughout the book, Elder Maxwell, in a way that only he can weave the tapestry of words, masterfully addresses the failures of all popular political philosophies as “looking beyond the mark”  and “missing the obvious things that are so plain and so precious” (even turning known foundations of epistemology on its head). There is a way of knowing , Maxwell observes through Mahijah, that transcends our physical and temporal limitations associated to language, logic, and reason — a way that is hard to describe but that we must all experience to gain eternal knowledge.

I have a decision to make [whether to enter Zion or not]. The strange thing about this decision, Omner, is that while it is not at variance with logic and reason, it does not depend alone upon them either. Nor will the decision be made on a basis of mere feeling. I regret not being able to explain it. A man can know something and yet not be able to speak of that truth easily to another.

A key pillar of a Zion-type society is that all interactions and institutions must keep sacrosanct the pure and unadulterated freedom of choice and free will in all things — and that “we are taught here often of the evils of compulsion in any degree. We count on contagion, not compulsion, to win others to our ways.” People are free to come and go at will, and it is the inhabitant’s love of God and of each other that become the bedrock of order in living true to their real identities as children of God without a plethora of external rules and regulations.

Believing in a loving God who is perfect helps us to love our imperfect neighbors. I see now that the first commandment must be first, and, therefore, the second commandment must be second, for without a knowledge of the love of God and his help, our concerns for our neighbors would diminish.

Maxwell continues,

When the inner man is changed, we have less and less need for outer controls. Men here do not hold back from doing their duty one toward another, from being honest one to another, because they love each other! They love each other even more deeply because they keep the first great commandment, to love the Lord their God with all their heart, mind, and soul. When men do not have a mind to injure one another, there is no need for sentries over society; here men pay their debts, often paying back even more than they borrow… If we do not live the simple, yet challenging, commandments of God, we should not be a happy people. There are no contentions, disputations, envyings, strifes, and tumults. Nor are there whoredomes, lyings, or lasciviousness here. There are no robbers. murderers, or factions. We are one. We are the Lord’s!

The final hurdle towards establishing a truly God-like society was to receive, understand, and live the law of consecration in all of its purity, both spiritually and physically (all by free will without coercion) — an idea so revolutionary and heart wrenching that many Zion-type people could not endure it and left. Maxwell’s description of the law of consecration certainly tugs at the heartstrings of the natural man, and it brings into immediate and necessary question many beliefs and opinions staunchly held by nearly every political philosophy… But we will let you read that and come to your own soul searching conclusion!

The Enoch Letters is a must have for every Latter-day Saint and liberty library, and it is easily completed from beginning to end on a single Sunday afternoon.