|Elder Dallin H. Oaks (b. 1932).|
Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles recently gave a devotional at Brigham Young University–Idaho on the subject of atheism and secular humanism. Elder Oaks’ comments are topical, as many recent polls have noted growing trends of irreligion (especially among those of my own generation) in the United States and elsewhere. While I think it’s important for Latter-day Saints to know how to articulate and live our faith in a growing secular world, and while I largely agree with Elder Oaks’ concerns, I believe there are a few ways that Elder Oaks could have perhaps better framed these issues.
The first positive thing about this address that I’d like to point out is the fact that Elder Oaks was more generous and nuanced that other theists sometimes are in discussing modern secularism. For instance, at the beginning of his remarks Elder Oaks observes that “the glorifying of human reasoning has had [both] good effects and bad,” and that “the work of science has made innumerable improvements in our lives.” Later in his remarks on secular humanism, Elder Oaks compliments “adherents of humanism, called humanists, [for having] had many positive effects. For example, they have been supportive of democracy, human rights, education and material progress.” I applaud Elder Oaks for finding and acknowledging positive aspects of humanism. As with Joseph Smith, I am convinced that flecks of truth can be found in all religious (and even areligious) systems of thought (including secular humanism), and that these truths can be circumscribed into one grand whole. As such, I was very happy to hear this from Elder Oaks.
That being said, there were a few aspect of Elder Oaks’ remarks that I found, well, problematic. At one point in his remarks Elder Oaks defines and discusses the term “anti-Christ.”
The Apostle John uses the term anti-Christ to describe one who “denieth the Father and the Son” (1 John 2:22). Today, those who deny the existence of God are called atheists. Some of these ridicule the faith of those who believe in what cannot be proven, even as they aggressively deny a godly existence they cannot disprove.
While Elder Oaks is, strictly speaking, staying true to scriptural language in this definition, I think it’s problematic to use this terminology today because of the popular connotation of the phrase “anti-Christ.” When most people today think of the term “anti-Christ,” I’d be willing to wager that they conjure in their mind something like this.
My fellow students, we are the “salt of the earth.” We must retain our savour by living our religion and by asserting ourselves as witnesses of God. When we do so, we associate ourselves with those who will enjoy the ultimate victory of truth and righteousness, when “every knee shall bow . . . and every tongue shall confess to God” (Romans 14:11) and the Lord Jesus Christ, whom we worship and whose servants we are.