Given how strict and narrow George Reynold’s views were in last week’s “sermon,” I thought I would provide a different view, from someone who is often assumed to be as strict as the views Reynolds expressed. Instead of urging members to concentrate on the scriptures and avoiding literature written by others, Brigham Young teaches in the text below not only that we should “study evil,” but also that the Lord knows all about Hell because he is aware of what is happening there.
From the text below, it is not hard to assume that Bro. Brigham not only encourages the study of evil, but its presentation in literature. How can evil be studied if it can’t be seen or presented? His reaction, apparently colored by an overly strict upbringing (in his view, at least), is that children need to experience life, and that the more we know about everything, the better. Here is what he said:
… Now, brethren and sisters, receive the exhortation and counsel of brother Snow, and profit by it; and employ the rest of your lives in good thoughts, kind words, and good works. “Shall I sit down and read the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the Book of Covenants all the time?” says one. Yes, if you please, and when you have done, you may be nothing but a sectarian after all. It is your duty to study to know everything upon the face of the earth, in addition to reading those books. We should not only study good, and its effects upon our race, but also evil, and its consequences.
I make these remarks to lay the foundation for principle in the minds of the people; and if you do not yet understand what I would be at, I will try to illustrate it still further. For example, we will take a strict, religious, holy, down country, eastern Yankee, who would whip a beer barrel for working on Sunday, and never suffer a child to go into company of his age—never suffer him to have any associates, or permit him to do anything or know anything, only what the deacon, priests, or missionaries bring to the house; when that child attains to mature age, say eighteen or twenty years, he is very apt to steal away from his father and mother; and when he has broken his bands, you would think all hell was let loose, and that he would compass the world at once.
Now understand it—when parents whip their children for reading novels, and never let them go to the theater, or to any place of recreation and amusement, but bind them to the moral law, until duty becomes loathsome to them; when they are freed by age from the rigorous training of their parents, they are more fit for companions to devils, than to be the children of such religious parents.
If I do not learn what is in the world, from first to last, somebody will be wiser than I am. I intend to know the whole of it, both good and bad. Shall I practice evil? No; neither have I told you to practice it, but to learn by the light of truth every principle there is in existence in the world.
Still further. When I was young, I was kept within very strict bounds, and was not allowed to walk more than half-an-hour on Sunday for exercise. The proper and necessary gambols of youth having been denied me, makes me want active exercise and amusement now. I had not a chance to dance when I was young, and never heard the enchanting tones of the violin, until I was eleven years of age; and then I thought I was on the highway to hell, if I suffered myself to linger and listen to it. I shall not subject my little children to such a course of unnatural training, but they shall go to the dance, study music, read novels, and do anything else that will tend to expand their frames, add fire to their spirits, improve their minds, and make them feel free and untrammeled in body and mind. Let everything come in its season, place everything in the place designed for it, and do everything in its right time. And inasmuch as the Lord Almighty has designed us to know all that is in the earth, both the good and the evil, and to learn not only what is in heaven, but what is in hell, you need not expect ever to get through learning. Though I mean to learn all that is in heaven, earth, and hell. Do I need to commit iniquity to do it? No. If I were to go into the bowels of hell to find out what is there, that does not make it necessary that I should commit one evil, or blaspheme in any way the name of my Maker.
Do you not suppose the Lord is there, and knows all about it? I am satisfied of it. If He is not there, when the wicked inhabitants of the earth begin to inquire where they shall flee to escape from His presence, they will find a hiding place in hell. If the wicked wish to escape from His presence, they must go where He is not, where He does not live, where His influence does not preside. To find such a place is impossible, except they go beyond the bounds of time and space.
From Organization and Development of Man,
a discourse by President Brigham Young
delivered in the Tabernacle, February 6, 1853.
In Journal of Discourses, v4, p. 90-96.
I have to admit, I don’t know at all how to square this with the suggestions of others, from Reynolds (and probably earlier) to Elder Boyd K. Packer, who have clearly worried about the presentation of evil and urged Church members to avoid it. But I think the above provides some nice balance to the discussion, and may be helpful the next time I have a discussion with someone about ‘R’-rated films and literature.
In the mean time, I’ll ponder on how to study evil without letting it influence me to do evil.