This one jumps backward chronologically. I had it mostly ready to post, then got so excited about the previous post, that I posted it first.
I’ve seen a lot of fanaticism in the church. A lot of gospel hobbies. I know I certainly enjoy and get more engaged in certain aspects of the gospel over others. However, I don’t think that’s what Elder Oaks1 was talking about when 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.
Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve has likened the fulness of the gospel to a piano keyboard. […]… Some members of the Church who should know better, pick out a hobby key or two and tap them incessantly. They can dull their own spiritual sensitivities. They lose track that there is a fulness of the gospel … [which they reject] in preference to a favorite note. This becomes exaggerated and distorted, leading them away into apostasy” (Ensign, Dec. 1971, p. 42).
We could say of such persons, as the Lord said of the Shakers in a revelation given in 1831, “They desire to know the truth in part, but not all” (D&C 49:2). 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.
We can all enjoy or be really good at one aspect of the gospel. Though hopefully it’s several. However, when we start to exclude, ignore, or devalue the other aspects of the gospel in favor of that one, that’s when it becomes a spiritual detriment to ourselves, and those around us. In addition to the gospel hobbies Elder Oaks named, others come to mind such as Scouting, missionary work, emergency prep; or even the claim of special gospel insight or knowledge that’s exclusionary toward all who don’t understand or disagree with it.
Lets get to the Book of Mormon, Mosiah 7. Limhi is telling Ammon (the 1st one, not the one who cut off the arms) how his people came to be in bondage to the lamanites, and the story goes back 2 generations to his grandfather Zeniff’s time:
20. And again, that same God has brought our fathers out of the land of Jerusalem, and has kept and preserved his people even until now; and behold, it is because of our iniquities and abominations that he has brought us into bondage.
So the Lord allowed them to become slaves to the Lamanites because of their wickedness. But in a very direct similarity to the children of Israel in Egypt, they’re in bondage and can be freed by the Lord.
21. And ye all are witnesses this day, that Zeniff, who was made king over this people, he being over-zealous to inherit the land of his fathers, therefore being deceived by the cunning and craftiness of king Laman, who having entered into a treaty with king Zeniff, and having yielded up into his hands the possessions of a part of the land, or even the city of Lehi-Nephi, and the city of Shilom; and the land round about–
He calls his own Grandfather “over-zealous” and says that he basically entered into a bad treaty with king Laman, because he wanted so badly to live in Lehi-Nephi, the land originally settled by Lehi and Nephi upon arrival in the promised land. Later in Mosiah, we read Zeniff’s version, and he calls himself “over-zealous.” So Limhi isn’t judging or blaming his Grandpa in a way Grandpa wouldn’t have done himself.
22. And all this he [king Laman] did, for the sole purpose of bringing this people into subjection or into bondage. And behold, we at this time do pay tribute to the king of the Lamanites, to the amount of one half of our corn, and our barley, and even all our grain of every kind, and one half of the increase of our flocks and our herds; and even one half of all we have or possess the king of the Lamanites doth exact of us, or our lives.
It seems like there’s a good parallel here to modern times. Was there anything wrong with wanting to live in the original land of Lehi-Nephi? Probably not. But Zeniff was too focused on it. It consumed him to the point he made really bad decisions. Over time it cost him and his people dearly: slavery, many lives, and perhaps most importantly, a complete lack of peace. Even after their great battle, they live in constant fear of the Lamanites attacking. His overzealousness sounds a lot like a “gospel hobby” to me.
People get so focused on that one thing so strongly, that they go too far. They leave the Church often taking children and sometimes friends and followers with them. The spiritual cost is very great. I can’t help but think of a number of people who’ve been excommunicated from the Church recently. They’ve led many people after them.
Each is, in their own way, seeking their own land of Nephi-Lehi. Like Eldorado, it’s just a myth. Zeniff might’ve returned to the same spot, but it’s not the same place anymore. In order to live there, he has to compromise and basically put himself in a position where they’re at the mercy of the Lamanites, who hate them. In many ways he makes a deal with the devil. And thus, even though the desire might not be wrong, he compromises principles and morals to gain the desire of his gospel hobby. And at what cost? What spiritual bondage is to follow for the modern-day Zeniff’s and their followers? It makes me sad to think about.
23. And now, is not this grievous to be borne? And is not this, our affliction, great? Now behold, how great reason we have to mourn.
24. Yea, I say unto you, great are the reasons which we have to mourn; for behold how many of our brethren have been slain, and their blood has been spilt in vain, and all because of iniquity.
25. For if this people had not fallen into transgression the Lord would not have suffered that this great evil should come upon them. But behold, they would not hearken unto his words; but there arose contentions among them, even so much that they did shed blood among themselves.
I don’t care to study the followers of some of the latter-day Zeniff’s, but it would be interesting to look and see if this is a pattern that plays out even today: they’ll have contention, suffer a sort of spiritual bondage, have reason to mourn, and possibly have other “evils” come upon them?
The upside in this story is that later Zeniff and his people really return fully to God. The constant fear of the Lamanites and the impending attack turns them back to Christ and His gospel. I hope and pray this will be true for some of our modern-day Zeniff’s. We’ve already seen some return. My favorite higher-profile recent examples are the amazing scholar Don Bradley, and feminist theologian Maxine Hanks. Both have incredible stories.
UPDATE: make sure to read both Darriel’s comment, which really gets at the heart of why this is such an easy trap to slip into, as well as Brock’s quote from Elder Maxwell, that really helps explain how and why to avoid it.
- “Our Strengths Can Become Our Downfall“, Dallin H. Oaks; 7 June 1992, BYU 18-Stake Devotional ↩
It may be an oversimplification, but the times when I’ve become overzealous in my life, it’s been when I thought that because the goal Was “gospel sanctioned” I didn’t need to submit my desire in humble prayer to the Lord for acceptance or rejection. Basically, I put my will before His. Alma also knew this when he said he sinned in his desire to be an angel to proclaim the gospel. We need to be happy in our callings and seek to put the Lord’s will first.
Neal A. Maxwell:
“Some of us neglect to develop multiple sources of satisfaction. When one of the wells upon which we draw dries up through death, loss or status, disaffection, or physical ailment, we then find ourselves very thirsty because, instead of having multiple sources of satisfaction in our lives, we have become too dependent upon this or upon that. How important it is to the symmetry of our souls that we interact with all the gospel principles and with all the Church programs, so that we do not become so highly specialized that, if we are deprived of one source of satisfaction, indeed we are in difficulty. It is possible to be incarcerated within the prison of one principle. We are less vulnerable if our involvements with the kingdom are across the board. We are less vulnerable if we care deeply about many principles
Overzealousness is not the same as apostasy. Those who leave the church are more like those stray from the path of the straight and narrow towards the tree of life. The extreme ones are like the antichrists peppered throughout the Book of Mormon.
To me, those who are overzealous are the ones that pursue anything to the exclusion of something that may be more important. Those who pursue positions of power, education, wealth, entertainment, or their self-determined measures of success and leave aside duty, responsibility and/or promises fall into the category of being overzealous.
I agree, overzealousness does not equal apostasy. But I think the message of Zeniff’s story, as well as the words of Elders Oaks, Packer, and Maxwell, is that overzealousness leads to apostasy, if it goes unchecked.
Yes, just about anything overdone can lead to apostasy if left unchecked.