And it came to pass that the God of heaven looked upon the residue of the people, and he wept; and Enoch bore record of it, saying: How is it that the heavens weep, and shed forth their tears as the rain upon the mountains? (Moses 7:28)

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Freedom from...

I was thinking about the famous speech of Franklin Roosevelt, where he speaks of a future where we will all be free from many of the unpredictable pitfalls of life. I realized that this marked a critical transition in the history of the United States, when freedom became replaced by "freedom from."

It represented a shift of focus from the citizenry and the sovereignty of the individual, to the preeminence of the state and its role as caretaker. The principles of natural rights - which weighed heavily with Enlightenment thinkers and America's founders - were eclipsed by the concept of entitlements.

While it's true that the first two of Roosevelt's "four freedoms" are anchored in the Enlightenment and the US Constitution, the intent was to present the 'new freedoms' - or New Deal, if you will - as a natural extension of the constitutional ideals.

Interestingly, property rights receive no mention among the essential freedoms. Instead, the emphasis is on individual thought and expression, and the assurance that everyone have ready access to the necessities of life.

Since then, the concepts of natural rights and public entitlements have become so intertwined in political discourse, that many fail to recognize the difference between them, or question their compatibility.

The obvious problem being that, governments subsist almost entirely on taxes. This means that they cannot give something to one person without taking from someone else.

That's why property ownership and individual sovereignty have lost much of their meaning in our current system. Perhaps Roosevelt, like his successors, recognized that these ideals, held sacred by our for-bearers,  were simply incompatible with the future they envisioned. The perception of private ownership could be preserved, but not the substance.

Freedom, rather than a natural right for which government is instituted to preserve, thus became a curated thing, carefully crafted by a benevolent government to suit the current socioeconomic reality.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Fabric of our Lives

We just finished watching the General Conference for our Church, and I wanted to write down some of my thoughts. Every year, in April and October we have a televised conference where some of the men and women who serve in leadership positions in the church give sermons, which we call "talks". Since we don't have a television provider, we watch it over the internet, streamed from lds.org.

Perhaps the talk that had the greatest impression on me was the one given Sunday morning by Dieter F. Uchtdorf.  President Uchtdorf is one of two counsellors to President Thomas S. Monson, who is the president of the Church, and a prophet of God. These three men form what we call the First Presidency, and perform the same function that was performed in New Testament times by Peter, James, and John. President Uchtdorf is himself, like James and John, an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ.

 With that explanation out of the way, President Uchtdorf spoke of those times when it seems that "the very fabric of our lives is be torn apart at the seams."

This caught both my and my wife's attention. Last year we had a new baby girl born into our family with a serious heart defect. We knew before she was born that she had this problem. It was pretty devastating when we first found out. My first thought was that I would have to learn to accept that our baby was not going to live. I had doubts whether she would even live long enough to be born.

My wife dropped me off at work on the way back from the ultrasound, and I sat at my desk with a heavy heart. I said a silent prayer, telling the Lord that I was willing to accept his will, but needed his help to do so. But then it seemed to me that I could hear, or rather feel, my daughters voice in my mind, saying, "Daddy, I haven't given up on myself, and you shouldn't give up on me either. I'm your daughter."

My wife had told me before this that she felt that our baby was going to be a fighter, and now I'd felt that same fierceness and determination. The last part, "I'm your daughter", hit home to me that she wasn't just a fetus developing in my wife's belly, or a spirit who's existence had only momentarily coincided with our own. She was our daughter. Behind all those ultrasounds, there was now a real person, with a real personality.

The doctor who did the ultrasound didn't give us much information, but it seemed clear that there were some major abnormalities in how her heart was developing. He was pretty somber, and, as we left the office, everyone was quiet as we passed. No smiles or goodbyes, no congratulations on finding out we were having a girl, and we never received a copy of the ultrasounds. That last part always seemed kind of strange to us.

Soon after that, we went to a cardiologist, who performed an echo-cardiogram. He was able to give us a clearer understanding of what was wrong with her heart. The left side of her heart was essentially non-existent. What's called a "hypo-plastic left heart." There were other significant irregularities as well.

A friend of my wife's had received similar news with her baby, and gone to the same cardiologist for confirmation. However, after an extensive ECG, he was unable to find anything wrong. Naturally, we were hoping the same thing would happen to us. While he didn't give us any such good news, he did explain to us how her heart could be made to work. He was much more positive and upbeat than the other doctor had been, and left us with a hopeful feeling.

We could tell that the cardiologist was a person of faith. Though he hadn't come right out and said so, it was easy to tell. There's a stark contrast between a person who believes, and one who lacks such an anchor. At times like this, you can tell the doctors who do from the ones who don't.  Hopelessness is a hard thing to conceal. With faith, no matter what happens, there's always hope.

In my next post, I'll talk more about the birth of our daughter.