Sunday, April 24, 2016

Opposition.

In the Book of Mormon, a companion text to the Bible of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the prophet Lehi teaches his son,

"For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things."

I.
The concept of opposition in all things informs LDS doctrine and the LDS worldview. The typical reading of this phrase, as I have heard it used, is that we will be opposed in all we do, particularly the good things we try to accomplish. Life won't be easy. Things won't go your way. Opposition seems to mean dissent, resistance, adversity. Trials--another favorite word of Mormons.

I think this is a correct reading, to an extent. The first definition of opposition is "resistance or dissent, expressed in action or argument." We are taught and many, myself included, have experienced that the most difficult things happen to us when we are about to do things that will be for our greatest good. 

However, we seem to paint a one-sided picture of opposition. If there were this type of opposition in all things, it would sometimes thwart us in our bad choices as well as our good choices. Every time you were going to watch Netflix instead of doing your homework, for instance, the internet mysteriously stops working. If this does happen, as I'm sure it also does, we don't use the phrase opposition in all things to explain those situations. Situations that turn out "right" don't need to be explained.

Opposition in all things is what we say when things don't turn out. We all experience things we want not happening, at least some of the time. I submit that our cultural use of the doctrine of opposition in all things allows us to make sense of the unexpected and discouraging things that happen to us by assigning the "blame" for these events to opposition

II.
But there is another definition of opposition: "a contrast or antithesis."

For there must needs be, that there is an opposite to all things.

Opposites aren't inherently negative, as our reading of the word opposition is. An opposite of a purely virtuous principle or thing is evil, but regular opposites aren't. Like hot and cold or even and odd.

For everything, good or bad or in between, there is an opposite. Every thesis has an antithesis. For every reaction there is an equal and opposite reaction. This seems to be a law of the universe.

III.
So what does opposite really mean? "Having a position on the other or further side of something." Also, "diametrically different."

Diametrically is the adjectival form of the word diametric, which means "of, relating, or constituting a diameter."

A diameter is a line that connects any two points of a circle and also runs through the center point of the circle.


IV.
Let's put those pieces together. Across cultures, the circle is a symbol for totality, wholeness, perfection, and eternity. In line with this, let's let a circle represent Truth. That's capital-t Truth, the kind that in true throughout the known universe.

For any point on the Truth circle, there is a point directly opposite it that can be connected with a diameter that runs through the center. It runs through the center, or heart, of the Truth, linking the opposites, and making them opposites, instead of any two unrelated points on the circle.

So there is an opposition in all things. Literally. Because that's how circles work. You can't have a circle that doesn't have a diameter. That's also how Truth works. You can't discover Truth without considering and integrating opposites. The existence of the opposite does not break down the truth; rather that is what makes it Truth.

V.
If this reading of opposition in all things is workable, then it could have major effects on how we view God, political parties, ethical frameworks, and any scale or continuum which is considered to have two poles.

One example: in America, we are more polarized in our politics than previous generations were. Let's take helping the poor as an example. Liberals would generally like to help the poor at all costs, and advocate doing so by raising taxes and building large government programs. Conservatives would like the poor to be helped, but think that can occur best at the local level. Ideally, these people would learn to help themselves.

From a Christian perspective, both viewpoints can be supported. Jesus fed the 5000, but Paul later taught, "if any would not work, neither should he eat" (2 Thessalonians 3:10). Both points exist on the Truth circle; in fact, they are opposite each other.

How do we find the truth in any situation? Consider the opposites. Begin on one end and move across the diameter, through the center of Truth, to the other side. Once you have considered, integrated, and mastered the opposites, you have to power to implement the principle  of helping the poor in a way that is right for each individual situation. 


For more information on this topic, see "Opposition in All Things," Dallin H. Oaks, April 2016

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