“It’s just fruit.”
ACME, Inc.* had just bought out ABC Co.*, and six weeks into the merger of these two organizations things were not going well. Naturally, these kinds of events are always difficult – there’s culture shock, there’s uncertainty, and there’s a great deal of change – but from ACME’s perspective, ABC employees had made out like bandits. ABC had been a small operation. There would be frustrations with the added bureaucracy that comes with being part of a larger company, but ABC wasn’t a mom-and-pop shop anymore. You can’t depend on the loyalty of incoming employees and a general “family” feel like you can when there’s only 25 of you. It’s true that with the merger, ABC now needed to worry about new formalities associated with everything from timekeeping to allowances for leaves of absence to regular performance reviews. But in return, employees experienced the positive trappings of a larger organization – pay bumps, better group health benefits, and even a retirement plan!
Specifics aren’t important, but in the weeks since the merger, as the initial wariness had begun to wear off, things had gotten… messy, and the rallying cry for the disgruntled employees was a basket of fruit.
You see, ABC Co. had maintained a basket of fresh fruit in their break room for employees, and evidently the employees had loved it. (Go figure – in my office, fresh fruit is routinely ignored in favor of chocolate candy or pastries leftover from training meetings hosted on-site.) For one reason or another, this perk had been left out in the merger, and employees hoisted this omission like a personal Title of Liberty representing all of their other grievances.
At this particular moment, I was talking with Joe*, the owner and CEO of ACME, Inc., about how to work through what he largely saw as nonsense. With a few choice expletives, he repeated, “It’s just fruit!”
He was, perhaps, somewhat justified in his stupor. ACME been very generous, with ABC employee total compensation increasing significantly. There hadn’t even been any job losses due to redundancy, and none were anticipated. It was a fantastic arrangement! And yet here they were, up in arms over their break room fruit basket.
“We all have our ‘sacred cows,'” I replied, and we went to work figuring out how to get through the nonsense.
I realize that we live in a day and age where this particular idiom may not be entirely welcome, but it’s fitting here. For these employees, the fruit basket of yesterday was a ‘sacred cow,’ an idol, and their singular focus on it caused them to overlook – and, in some sad cases, walk away from – an incredibly beneficial, if initially uncomfortable, arrangement. The omission for them was a personal slight they could not ignore, and at least in the short-term, caused them to pass on a wonderful opportunity.
This is not so unlike the idols that each of us have and the opportunities we lose when we fixate on our “baskets of fruit.”
Calling something an “idol” or a “false god” makes it sound so bad, so evil, so vile! But that’s not quite right, is it? There’s nothing inherently wrong about a bowl of fruit, but when that becomes our sole fixation, there’s a cost.
Similarly, it’s not that a particular idol is bad that makes idolization spiritually destructive. One of the difficulties of false idols, in fact, is they can be good things in and of themselves. When the Savior spoke of those who loved family more than Him being unworthy of Him, he was not decrying familial devotion; He was teaching about prioritization. Love of God comes first, before all other things.
This is why prophets and apostles have warned us about gospel hobbies specifically, and idolatry more generally, since the beginning of time. In 1971, then-Elder Boyd K. Packer warned of a fixation on pieces of the fullness of the gospel in the same way one might play the same key on a piano, ignoring the rest of the keyboard. He said,
“Some members of the Church who should know better pick out a hobby key or two and tap them incessantly, to the irritation of those around them. They can dull their own spiritual sensitivities. They lose track that there is a fullness of the gospel and become as individuals, like many churches have become. They may reject the fullness in preference to a favorite note. This becomes exaggerated and distorted, leading them away into apostasy.” (emphasis added)
In 1994, then-Elder Oaks taught about how our strengths can become weaknesses. He said,
“My first example concerns Satan’s efforts to corrupt a person who has an unusual commitment to one particular doctrine or commandment of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This could be an unusual talent for family history work, an extraordinary commitment to constitutional government, a special talent in the acquisition of knowledge, or any other special talent or commitment...”
Then, after quoting President Packer’s comments above, President Oaks added,
“Beware of a hobby key. If you tap one key to the exclusion or serious detriment of the full harmony of the gospel keyboard, Satan can use your strength to bring you down.” (emphasis added)
Speaking about the ‘false god’ meme he created, Tanner Guzy wrote on Twitter,
“When I say something is a false god, too many of you think I’m saying it’s evil or without value. Beauty is godly. So are kindness, patience, reason, ambition, and all the other virtues I claim are false gods.
“So what is the difference between a virtue and a false god? When everything is sacrificed for the sake of that virtue. We all know people who think the only thing that matters is being nice, or following your heart, or loyalty. They make every virtue subservient to the one they value most – meaning it’s no longer one virtue of many, it’s a god that all other virtues must be sacrificed for.
“And all these gods are false.“
Think about the things that you value most. To what do you devote your time and your treasure? For what virtues are you willing to compromise? What makes you abandon a relationship? What makes you angry, upset, and lash out?
Look at what idols make us do.
The First Commandment
So what do we do? On 11 February 2020, Elder Terence M. Vinson, a member of the Presidency of the Seventy, spoke at a BYU devotional. It was a joy to listen to his testimony, and it certainly didn’t hurt that he also shared extensively from the poem The Man from Snowy River. As a lover of the film, it was a treat.
More importantly, he spoke about the two great commandments and the importance of keeping those commandments simultaneously, but also in the order in which they were given. He said,
“It is important to note the order and emphasis given by the Savior, as it is critical. We cannot supplant the first commandment – the great commandment – with the second, as is often the rationale for the solely humanistic view promoted in the secular world. And we cannot disregard the first commandment while purporting to live the second. We must live both, but we must never allow our love for others to work against our love for God, and our desire to keep his commandments. The failure to follow the correct priority is a mistake that is being made far too often today.
“Some interpret a desire to love others with a need to embrace their life choices, even when those choices are not in harmony with God’s commandments. While we live the commandments and help others to understand that we do so because we love God and honor His advice, we can, and we should, still love those who do not agree with us. But we must be clear about this. There are many today who believe that to love someone means that we cannot disagree with their life choices. This belief is false! To love someone does not mean that we are obliged to embrace as our own everything that they embrace. The Savior loved the woman taken in adultery and the thief on the cross. His love was not diminished by His disagreeing with their choices. His approach was to correct but not harp on those choices. He simply stated the truth in relation to the moral issue and lovingly encouraged compliance.
“And so it is with us. Our first responsibility is to God and to His teachings of absolute truth and to His commandments. The reality is that those who hold the great commandment, and the second commandment, to the order that God gave them, will need to stand up and be counted. To stand up for what is really true in an ever more secular world, each one of us will need to cultivate the qualities of integrity, faith, humility, and strength just like the man from Snowy River.” (emphasis added)
This portion of his address was shared widely on social media, and just a day later came what is ostensibly a subtweet, and not a subtweet of just anyone, but a subtweet of a member of the Presidency of the Seventy:
Here a gospel hobby – a sacred cow, a false god, an idol – caused an impulsive rejection of the primary message being taught. Even if there is a more comprehensive way to understand the eternal gospel of Jesus Christ, one of the most dangerous ways to respond to prophets, seers, and revelators (and those teaching under their direction) is to respond, “Well, yes, but…”
Look at what idols make us do.
Unfortunately, idols don’t just come in the form of gospel hobbies these days. More and more Americans, including more and more Latter-day Saints, are making an idol out of politics in spite of the words of our Master who said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” Political purity tests abound for faithful, covenant-keeping Latter-day Saints seeking to be true disciples of Jesus Christ.
Did you support Obama? Why, that’s beyond the pale!
Did you support Trump? Why, I never!
What are your feelings on limited, Constitutional government? What about federal regulations limiting immigration? What about the availability of healthcare? And where do you stand on the Supreme Court of the United States? I only ask this because evidently:
Presumably, if you are not petitioning God to extend the life of one of the more liberal justices on the Supreme Court until a Democrat can name her replacement, why, you’ll need to go see your bishop. Bring a sackcloth and ashes.
A political hobby – again, a sacred cow, a false god, an idol – has led to an effort to divide the Church of God along political lines. “Yes, of course, the gospel transcends earthly politics, but can’t you see the gospel analogs in environmental stewardship, in governmental redistribution of wealth and care for the impoverished, in women’s healthcare and the freedom to choose (I mean, c’mon, that one’s almost too on the nose), and my goodness, frankly, in every aspect of the Democratic platform? If you can’t reject conservatism with us in favor of progressivism, I can’t in good conscience endorse you as an active Latter-day Saint…”
Look at what idols make us do.
Perhaps this is why the Lord warns us so forcefully from making idols of false gods that have no power to redeem or sanctify us.
(Dear goodness I actually had to type it.)
This has all been leading somewhere.
This satirical account in question was set up in January 2020 and plays the part of a fictitious young Latter-day Saint attending BYU. The hook? This particular Latter-day Saint is a racist.
He doesn’t tweet racist things, mind you – this is important given Spiritual Cancer’s (appropriate) condemnation of racist speech. Instead, he just talks generally about ‘being’ racist (e.g., posting GIFs from the Dukes of Hazzard or using hearts in the color of the German flag rather than the rainbow) and discusses the associated isolation and struggles.
Spiritual Cancer tells us that “LGBTQ speech is, generally speaking, an expression of what life is like as an LGBTQ person,” and this is largely what we get from RayRay. Despite their weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, every tweet from RayRay is essentially a carbon copy from progressive Latter-day Saint Twitter with the nouns replaced (e.g., “racist” for “queer” or “LGBTQ”).
I’ll give you three guesses for how progressive Twitter has felt about this.
It is perhaps unsurprising they’ve totally missed the point (though I am not RayRay, and I don’t follow RayRay, so I cannot really speak for RayRay and some of this will be conjecture on my part). There is no better example of how far they’ve missed the point than Spiritual Cancer‘s blog entry, linked above.
In the piece, they write how the satirical account is “attempting to make the case that being racist and being LGBTQ are morally equivalent,” adding that the “online argument” (whatever that is – there’s no hyperlink, so we have to trust that Spiritual Cancer is just sufficiently plugged into the ether) is “thinking homosexual thoughts (whatever that means) is morally neutral and, therefore, the worst sort of thoughts, racist thoughts, ought to be as well. And people who are having racist thoughts, but not acting on them, are to be treated with love and respect, just as we would treat anyone.”
(As an aside, Spiritual Cancer, if you’re going to talk theology, at least get it right – thoughts can very much be sinful. The Church teaches that “feelings of same-sex attraction are not a sin,” but I imagine that anyone who entertains lustful thoughts is behaving in a way unbecoming of a disciple of Christ and has room to repent. This actually helps resolve the dilemma you create for yourself in excusing queer thoughts but not racist thoughts. Thoughts and feelings are different things, and entertaining thoughts born out of all kinds of feelings can lead us from the Savior and chase away the spirit.)
Anyway, equivocation is not the argument. This account demonstrates nothing of the sort. It’s not about equating racism and queerness. The reality – in my estimating – is it’s about idols.
Modern progressives, in the words of Elder Vinson, have allowed their love for others to work against their love for God, and they hit the same keyboard key over and over again, failing to follow the correct priority. Yes, Spiritual Cancer, racism and elevation of it is evil and abhorrent and provides great cause to repent and that is exactly the point. We would never allow our love for racists – and in one of life’s great ironies, everyone seems to be missing the fact that, yes, indeed, the command to love our brothers and sisters applies just as much to racist men and women as it does to anyone else – to prevent us from condemning a philosophy that is so destructive and countered against the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. However, the imagined equivocation between racism and queerness simply drives them mad with rage. They’re not the same – but idolization is.
Look at what idols make us do.
RayRay is biting satire – and clearly, it’s effective – demonstrating the folly in cultivating gospel hobbies to the detriment of the fullness of the gospel. Making idolatry easy to identify by using something that is, of course, loathsome and detestable, may help demonstrate the idea that making idols out of “good” things or “worthwhile” things is still idolatry and carries the same condemnation.
Remember the two great commandments, but remember the priority given by the Savior and love God first.
*Protecting the innocent and all that.
- “Good, Better, Best” -Elder Dallin H. Oaks, October 2007
- “Thou Shalt Have No Other Gods” -Elder Russell M. Nelson, April 1996
- “Let Your Faith Show” -Elder Russell M. Nelson, April 2014