Monday, September 29, 2008

Constructive Thoughts: National Humility, Pt. 2

Ever since Junior High, I have been fascinated by the Fibonacci sequence of numbers. I cannot explain what my fascination is, and I am certainly no mathematician, so I cannot pretend to fully understand it. For those of you who may not know, the Fibonacci sequence is a sequence in which each number after the first two numbers is the sum of the previous two numbers. In other words: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, 233, etc.

The sequence is predictable. There is a pattern or sequence in life that is nearly as predictable as the Fibonacci sequence. That is the so-called Pride Cycle.

What is the Pride Cycle you ask?

The Pride Cycle is a pattern in which a civilization rises and falls, based on their adherence to the Lord's words and the level of their pride. It is a sequence that is repeated over and over in the scriptures, as the Lord's way of teaching us about the pitfalls of pride. We are constantly hit over the head with stories representative of the Pride Cycle, I believe, so that we can learn to recognize it in our own lives and in the world around us, so that we can avoid the serious consequences of pride. The steps in the sequence could be stated as follows: (a) Righteousness and prosperity; (b) Pride and wickedness; (c) Destruction and suffering; and (d) Humility and repentance, which then leads back to (a).

In the Book of Mormon, especially, we see this cycle repeated time after time. In almost every instance where the Lord blesses his people with abundance, prosperity, and material wealth, it is not long before they turn away from Him, forgetting Him, until they are brought to a remembrance of God--through destruction or suffering--at which time they are humbled and repent. Pride always leads to destruction, and usually sooner rather than later.

This scares me.

Why? As President Ezra Taft Benson taught, "Pride is the universal sin, the great vice.... Pride is the great stumbling block to Zion." {Ezra Taft Benson, "Beware of Pride," Ensign, May 1989 at 4.} (Aside: This sermon by President Benson is one of the great discourses on pride; although I am going to cite heavily from it, I would strongly recommend reading it for yourselves in its entirety, if you have not done so lately. My latest reading of it brought all of this to mind.)

What else scares me about it? We all know the words of Santayana: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Look around you; do you see any evidence that the Pride Cycle is going strong?

First, a definition or two. For the sake of this argument, I am going to focus strictly upon current events in the United States of America. This is by no means meant to insult or leave out my non-American readers. It is simply easier for me at this point to make American-oriented references. For that similar purpose, I am going to use the American people as God's people; again, not because they are any better then people elsewhere, it simply helps in the analysis. In addition--as I have written before--this land is a chosen land. {See this post.)

Step one: Righteousness and prosperity.
Four months ago, I urged a "national pride check" because of how prosperous the country had become. And we, as a people, have been very prosperous. "One of the inevitable side effects that occurs as people apply gospel principles in their lives is that their material circumstances also improve.” {Dean L. Larsen, "Beware Lest Thou Forget the Lord," Ensign, May 1991 at 40.}

While we should not expect that we have a right to material wealth if we follow the commandments, "the lord has made it clear...that when his people are obedient, he desires to bless them with the necessities and the comforts of life so that none should live in want.” Id. Material, worldly wealth, however, can carry with it risks of complacency and may distract us from what is eternally important. It can become so important, sometimes, that our possessions seem to possess us. This concern over material wealth is a matter about which prophets have been concerned throughout history.

Moses, for example, warned the Israelites:

7 For the Lord thy God bringeth thee into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths that spring out of valleys and hills;
8 A land of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates; a land of oil olive, and honey;
9 A land wherein thou shalt eat bread without scarceness, thou shalt not lack any thing in it; a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills thou mayest dig brass.
10 When thou hast eaten and art full, then thou shalt bless the Lord thy God for the good land which he hath given thee.
11 Beware that thou forget not the Lord thy God, in not keeping his commandments, and his judgments, and his statutes, which I command thee this day:
12 Lest when thou hast eaten and art full, and hast built goodly houses, and dwelt therein;
13 And when thy herds and thy flocks multiply, and thy silver and thy gold is multiplied, and all that thou hast is multiplied;
14 Then thine heart be lifted up, and thou forget the Lord thy God, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage;
{Deuteronomy 8:7-14}
Brigham Young also taught: "The worst fear I have about this people is that they will get rich in this country, forget God and His people, wax fat, and kick themselves out of the Church and go to hell. This people will stand mobbing, robbing, poverty, and all manner of persecution, and be true. But my greater that they cannot stand wealth.” {Larsen, supra (citation omitted).} The central danger with material wealth, you see, “lay in its obscuring the need for acknowledging the Lord’s hand in these blessings, and in failing to use the abundance to bless others and to accomplish the Lord’s purposes.” {Id.}

Step two: Pride and wickedness. Surely we do not have a problem here, right?


Some of the earmarks of pride, as President Benson set them forth:

  • Enmity toward God and enmity toward our fellowmen (called the central feature of pride)
  • Essentially competitive: our will against God's
  • Desires, appetites, passions go unbridled
  • Inability to accept the authority of God; Human perceptions against God's great knowledge; Inability to change one's opinions to agree with God's
  • Fear of men's judgments rather than of God's judgments
  • Faultfinding
  • Gossiping
  • Backbiting
  • Murmuring
  • Living beyond our means
  • Envying
  • Coveting
  • Withholding gratitude and praise
  • Unforgiving
  • Jealous
  • Disobedience
  • Selfishness
  • Contention
  • Easily offended
  • Grudge-holding
  • Not easily corrected
Whew. I will leave it to you as to where we stand as far as these things are concerned.

Step three: Destruction and suffering. Here's where I really began to get scared when I started looking at this topic. President Benson said, "God will have a humble people. Either we can choose to be humble or we can be compelled to be humble." {Benson, supra.} I am afraid that we, by and large, are going to be compelled to be humble, rather than choosing humility for ourselves.

Look around.

Where is our perceived power now? Where is our economic power? Are we still prosperous? In the Book of Mormon the Lord used droughts and famines to bring humility to his people. (See, e.g., Helaman 11:3-7; 12:3.) Sound familiar? Droughts, flooding, food shortages, fuel shortages, high prices, low dollar value, etc. Do I really need to go on?

Have we missed the teachings of Moses and forgotten the Lord?

Pride is a stumbling block for Zion, according to a Prophet of the Lord.

Are we stumbling? Or have we already stumbled and are wallowing in the mud?
Step four: Humility and repentance, which lead back to righteousness and prosperity. I do not think it is too late for us to choose to be humble. We may not avoid all of the destruction and suffering that we have sown through our pride, but we may not reap as much as we otherwise might have.

How do we choose humility? How could I put it better than a Prophet? We can choose to humble ourselves by:
  • conquering enmity
  • receiving counsel and chastisement
  • forgiving those who have offended us
  • rendering selfless service
  • preaching the word that can humble others
  • getting to the temple more frequently
  • confessing and forsaking our sins and being born of God
  • loving God, submitting our will to His, and putting Him first in our lives
Four months ago, I said that I thought that we needed a pride check, individually and nationally. I said that our consequences are coming.

I think they are here. Just look at the headlines of the day.

The consequences are here, my friends.

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Are we condemned to repeat it? No. There is a way to break the Pride Cycle.

We need to find humility and repent, individually and nationally. Heck, Globally, even. We need to get ourselves back to righteousness and prosperity will follow. Then we need to find a way to cut out the other two steps for good. We need to remain humble, even in our prosperity. We need to continually repent in order to stay righteous. That is how we break the Pride Cycle.

That's where I long to be.

What about you?

1 comment:

Ira Williams said...

Thanks for your great posting! I, too, worry that we have lost respect and appreciation for humility. I believe that our best moments as a country have come when we were most humble.

Likewise, when we've allowed pride to govern our actions, we tend to be headed for a season of correction.

Please feel free to review an essay I've written on humility entitled "Speak Softly...". It can be found here:

And if you're really fired up, you can learn more about my book by the same title at

All the best!

Ira Williams