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Miracles

Have miracles ceased? No, explained Elder Matthew Cowley in a 1953 devotional, miracles are all around us—a fact still true today if we can learn to have faith to channel them.

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Listen, Lift, Rescue

You might recall in the beloved Dr. Seuss children’s book Horton Hears a Who! how Horton, who was an elephant, had a chance encounter with a speck of dust, from whence a voice, barely audible, called out for help. Horton recognized that the voice was coming from the speck of dust and proceeded to do all he could to protect and defend this colony of Whos, who were “too small to be seen by an elephant’s eyes.” Horton perceived that someone was in distress and realized that he could help. Instead of discounting his newly discovered friends, and amidst scoffs and scorn from others, he did all he could to give aid. He had a clear understanding of his ability to rescue and protect the Who colony. Through his actions he demonstrated his ability to give aid, share his light, and serve. As Horton exclaimed, “A person’s a person, no matter how small.” Being Grateful Having just celebrated Thanksgiving this past week, and as we transition from November into the month of December and celebrate the birth of our beloved Savior, it seems particularly natural that gratitude has taken center stage in our minds and in our hearts—as it should. No matter how humble and meager our circumstances, we each have so much to be grateful for. President Thomas S. Monson said of gratitude: To express gratitude is gracious and honorable, to enact gratitude is generous and noble, but to live with gratitude ever in our hearts is to touch heaven. [“The Divine Gift of Gratitude,” Ensign, November 2010] He also said: We can lift ourselves and others as well when we refuse to remain in the realm of negative thought and cultivate within our hearts an attitude of gratitude. [“Divine Gift”] Gratitude is an expression of our faith. Negativity most certainly breeds despair, depression, lack of enthusiasm, and critical analysis of that which is most likely not our right to criticize or judge. Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, in a devotional address on gratitude given at BYU, said: Gratitude is a mark of a noble soul and a refined character. We like to be around those who are grateful. They tend to brighten all around them. They make ­others feel better about themselves. They tend to be more humble, more joyful, more likable. . . . Gratitude is a commandment of the Father. [“Live in Thanksgiving Daily,” BYU devotional address, 31 October 2000] Doctrine and Covenants 59:7 reads, “Thou shalt thank the Lord thy God in all things.” While it may be more challenging to feel grateful when we are in the throes of trials and disappointments, those are the very times when we need to stop, take a look around, and count and list our blessings one by one. It has not been surprising to me throughout my life how much I truly take for granted when I am in a “woe is me” state of mind and how reflecting on my blessings has turn
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The Book of Mormon: Man-Made or God-Given?

The Book of Mormon Is the Keystone of Our Religion It is good to be with you today. I love BYU. It is where I attended school, where I met my wonderful wife, and where all six of our children have attended. The title of my talk today is “The Book of Mormon: Man-Made or God-Given?”1 Because the Book of Mormon is “the keystone of our religion,” as described by Joseph Smith,2 the Church rises or falls on the truth of it. As a result, if the Book of Mormon can be proved to be man-made, then the Church is man-made. On the other hand, if its origin is God-given, then Joseph Smith was a prophet, and if he was a prophet, then The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is true. It is that simple. Once we have a foundational testimony of the Book of Mormon, then any question or challenge we confront in life, however difficult it may seem, can be approached with faith, not doubt. Why? Because the keystone of our religion—the Book of Mormon and its witness of Jesus Christ—has also become the keystone of our testimony, which keystone holds our testimony securely in place. Thus the Book of Mormon has become the focal point of attack by many of our critics: disprove the Book of Mormon and you disprove the Church and undermine testimonies. But this is no easy task—in fact, it is impossible, because the Book of Mormon is true. Eleven witnesses, in addition to Joseph Smith, saw the gold plates, millions of believers have testified of its truthfulness, and the book is readily available for examination. Critics must either dismiss the Book of Mormon with a sheepish shrug or produce a viable alternative to Joseph Smith’s account; namely, that he translated it by the gift and power of God. What then are those alternative arguments presented by our critics for the origin of the Book of Mormon, and what is the truth? Argument 1: Joseph Smith, Alleged to Be an Ignorant Man, Wrote the Book of Mormon In 1831 a clergyman named Alexander Campbell proposed that Joseph Smith wrote rather than translated the Book of Mormon: There never was a book more evidently written by one set of fingers, nor more certainly conceived in one cranium . . . , than this . . . book. . . . I cannot doubt for a single moment that [Joseph Smith] is the sole author and proprietor of it.3 Campbell also declared that “[Joseph was] as ignorant and as impudent a knave as ever wrote a book.”4 But this assertion that Joseph Smith, who was “ignorant” and lacked education, could write such a work as the Book of Mormon seemed so preposterous to other contemporary critics that they readily dismissed it. Even Campbell himself, who proposed this theory, later abandoned it in favor of another alternative.5 So the early theories about the origin of the Book of Mormon started to focus on the premise that Josep
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Brigham Young University: A Visionary House

Over the past several decades my wife, Lisa, faithfully stood at our door to send our children off as they left our home for school. Without exception, she would call to them—usually in her pajamas—and say, “Stand up straight, smile, and remember who you are! You’re a Richardson, a child of God!” Without taking a breath, she would then say our family motto: “Reverence. Respect. Responsibility. Resourcefulness.” And then, with the excitement of a cheerleader, she would roll her arms and say the final word: “Reeesolve.” Oh, but wait, she wasn’t quite finished. She would cap it all off with an enthusiastic “Be a light!” After our children heard this charge nearly every day of their young lives, is it any wonder that this ritual has been forever engrained in their memories—and in the memories of their friends and quite possibly of our neighbors? With this image fresh in your mind, I would like to focus on the first part of my wife’s simple but profound instruction: “Stand up straight, smile, and remember who you are.” BYU has impacted my ability to stand up straight, has influenced why I smile, and has greatly molded who I am today. I have been privileged to be part of this university as a student, a professor, and now an administrator for more than three decades. I know what you are thinking, and yes, three decades is a very long time—and yes, I am old. After all these years you would think that I would know my way around campus, which I do; understand more about honor and integrity from the Honor Code, which I do; know all of “The Cougar Fight Song,” which I do; and know and enjoy BYU’s history and culture, which I do. Yet there are certain things about BYU that I earnestly hope I will never forget. President Ezra Taft Benson once said, “It is our privilege to store our memories with good and great thoughts and bring them out on the stage of our minds at will.”1 Sadly, remembering even the good and great thoughts can be difficult. I am confident that you, of all people, understand this well. After all, you have been taking quizzes and midterms lately and probably know that sick feeling in which your head is like a balloon with a small hole and all your preparation at the library is leaking out at an alarming rate as you make your way to the Testing Center. Oh sure, you try and pump your head up again by quickly reading through the stack of note cards as you walk, but you know deep down that all the good stuff is leaking out just as fast as you are putting it in. There is great power in knowledge, but it seems that there is even greater power in remembering. President Spencer W. Kimball once asked, “When you look in the dictionary for the most important word, do you know what it is?” He then answered, “It could be remember.”2 With everything you have tucked away, there are some thin
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Receiving the Eternal

My friends, I commend each of you for taking time in your busy lives to consider the things of eternity. May the Lord bless you for it. I was originally scheduled to speak at a devotional in March, but two weeks before that day, I had a heart attack. While having three titanium stents put in my heart, I went into cardiac arrest and experienced what doctors call “clinical death.” Alas, I did not see a tunnel of light, nor was I asked about whether I wanted to stay on earth. If asked, I think I would have said, “I do miss my parents and grandparents, but my children and grandchildren still need me. And I really need my wife, Mary. May I please stay?” Well, the doctors got my heart beating again, and I am very happy to be here with you today—especially with Mary! My purpose today is to speak about the blessings found in receiving the eternal into our lives and also to speak a little on the related need to resist the ephemeral. Ephemeral means fleeting, transitory, and momentary. Most things in this life are ephemeral. It is easy to forget that we are actually eternal beings in the midst of a temporary mortal journey. In Lehi’s dream of the tree of life,1 there were various ephemeral things that posed challenges for those making their way to the tree, including great mists of darkness and a great and spacious building with finely dressed people pointing fingers of scorn.2 The things that helped people get to the tree included a strait and narrow path, an iron rod, and the examples of people pressing forward to the tree, whose fruit was “sweet above all that is sweet.”3 A central purpose of the Book of Mormon is to convince “the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God.”4 I was brought to Christ through the Book of Mormon when entirely undeserving of this blessing. Thus I embrace a sacred obligation to stand as a witness of God’s love and mercy “at all times . . . and in all places”—including this one.5 The best way I know how to do this is to tell you about my journey to Christ. Conversion to Christ and the Restored Gospel I was born and raised in Marin County, California—at that time the fifth-wealthiest county in the nation. Living just north of San Francisco, I grew up literally surrounded by great mists, since on most days a heavy, dark fog rolled in off the Pacific Ocean. My parents raised me in the Episcopal Church. I was baptized by Father Ewald, my dad’s adoptive father. My godmother was my mom’s best friend, a wonderful Jewish woman named Ann, and my godfather was my Uncle Gene, who became an Episcopal priest. From age nine to twelve I served as an altar boy. However, I stopped attending church at age twelve and spent my youth playing sports. I cared nothing for books or schooling, only for baseball, basketball, tennis—and girls. I lived t
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Elections, Hope, and Freedom

I am pleased for the opportunity to speak at this BYU devotional. The first BYU devotional I addressed was exactly forty-five years ago, in 1971. That audience included my oldest daughter, just enrolling as a freshman here. Many years later I spoke at this devotional assembly to an audience that included several of my grandchildren. Today this audience includes our oldest great-granddaughter, a ­sophomore here. Time goes on. I. This opportunity comes at a unique time. I am the only General Authority assigned to address this BYU audience between the beginning of school this fall and the election on November 8. And this audience includes thousands who will soon have their first opportunity to vote. I, therefore, begin by speaking about our national and local elections. The few months preceding an election have always been times of serious political divisions, but the divisions and meanness we are experiencing in this election, especially at the presidential level, seem to be unusually wide and ugly. Partly this results from modern technology, which expands the audience for conflicts and the speed of dissemination. Today, dubious charges, misrepresentations, and ugly innuendos are instantly flashed around the world, and the effects instantly widen and intensify the gaps between different positions. TV, the Internet, and the emboldened anonymity of the blogosphere have facilitated the current ugliness and have replaced whatever remained of the measured discourse of the past. Nevertheless, as the First Presidency always reminds us, we have the responsibility to become informed about the issues and candidates and to independently exercise our right to vote. Voters, remember, this applies to candidates for the many important local and state offices as well as the contested presidential election. II. We should also remember not to be part of the current meanness. We should communicate about our differences with a minimum of offense. Remember this teaching of the Prophet Joseph Smith: While one portion of the human race [is] judging and condemning the other without mercy, the great parent of the universe looks upon the whole of the human family with a fatherly care and paternal regard; he views them as his offspring, and without any of those contracted feelings that influence the children of men.1 I spoke about this subject two years ago in an October general conference talk titled “Loving Others and Living with Differences.” My message focused on doctrine and its application to the differences we face in our diverse circumstances in Church and family and in public, but the principles I taught are also relevant to political differences. I said: We are to live in the world but not be of the world. We must live in the world because, as Jesus taught in a parable, His kingdom is “like le
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The Light of the Y

Welcome to the start of a new semester. We are so glad to have you students here on campus. Our community comes alive in a new way because you are here. Most of our new students arrived two weeks ago. Many of them participated in what is now becoming a tradition: forming the Y at LaVell Edwards Stadium. This is a wonderful and symbolic reminder that you, the students, are the Y—meaning that you are both the reason why we exist as a university and, for those with whom you interact, the embodiment of what BYU stands for. You represent the Y wherever you go. I love this recent tradition. There is another BYU tradition, one that began long before any of you were born. In 1924, students hiked up to the block Y on Y Mountain, dipped mattress stuffing in oil, placed the mattress balls around the edges of the Y, and lit them with torches they had carried up the ­mountain—thus lighting the Y for the very first time. Since that time the Y has been lighted every year for Homecoming, graduation, and other special events. Fortunately the torch fires never spread to the rest of the mountain in the ensuing decades. By the 1980s, those involved decided not to tempt fate any longer, and the mattress balls and torches were replaced with a generator and a string of lightbulbs stretched around the Y, making the Y brilliantly visible throughout the valley. This past summer, permanent lighting was literally cemented in place, and new technology was installed to allow remote lighting, thereby ensuring that the tradition of lighting the Y will continue for years to come. Just as I hope that the more recent tradition of forming the Y in LaVell Edwards Stadium reminds you that you are the Y, I hope that the continuation of the long-standing tradition of lighting the Y reminds you of an invitation that I will give to each of you students today: Don’t just light the Y; let the Y light you. What do I mean by that? Perhaps it can best be explained by a familiar story told by President James E. Faust. In the 1980s, prior to his becoming a member of the First Presidency, President Faust worked alongside many others to establish the BYU Jerusalem Center. In a 2005 general conference address, President Faust recalled one historic meeting regarding the lease for the land on which the . . . Jerusalem Center . . . was later built. Before this lease could be signed, President Ezra Taft Benson and Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, then president of Brigham Young University, agreed with the Israeli government on behalf of the Church and the university not to proselyte in Israel. President Faust then said: To our knowledge the Church and BYU have scrupulously and honorably kept that nonproselyting commitment. After the lease had been signed, [however,] one of our [Israeli] friends insightfully remarked, “Oh, we know that you are not going to proselyte, but what are you going to do about the light t
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Choose to Be a Leader

BYU is a wonderful place because it has ­wonderful students. I hope you all realize how much potential you have. You are all future leaders. You will lead in the Church, you will lead in businesses, you will lead in communities, you will lead in volunteer efforts, and, most important, you will lead in your families. One of the things I hope you learn here is how to be better leaders. If you do, you will be an enormous force for good. I would like to share with you some things I have learned about leadership over the years, things I wish I had known about leadership when I was your age. I begin with a personal ­experience—one that provides several lessons about leadership. From the time we were first married, Kevin and I have gone to visit my parents at their cabin in the mountains about seventy-five miles south of Provo. A number of years ago, while we were preparing to come home after one of those visits, my then young son needed to get something out of our locked car, so I gave him the keys and told him to be careful to not lock the keys in the car. A few minutes later he returned, looking a little sheepish. He then hesitantly, but bravely, confessed that he had locked the keys in the car. What ensued was one of those moments that my children still refer to many years later: “Do you remember what mom did when the keys were locked in the car?” Yes, upon hearing the brave confession of my young son, I responded in a way that corresponded more to his age than to mine. I threw a tantrum. I raised my voice, and I even kicked the car tire. I let my emotions take over. Fortunately that lasted only a few moments. My father calmly reminded me that I had roadside assistance insurance for times like this. His calm reminder instantly calmed me. I called roadside assistance, and we were soon on our way home. Now you might wonder what lessons could possibly come from an experience like that. Let me suggest four. Learn from Your Mistakes First, I learned that we can learn from our mistakes. I immediately regretted the way I had behaved that day. I reflected on the fact that, as a mother, I was a leader and a teacher to my children. And I resolved to do better. That experience had a powerful impact on me. While I am not perfect, I think I am doing better in that regard. Fortunately, as Elder Bruce C. Hafen once observed, “Because of the Atonement, we can learn from our experiences without being condemned by them” (“The Temple and the Natural Order of Marriage,” Ensign, September 2015). That is a powerful lesson for leaders to learn. Learn from the Examples of Others Second, I learned that we can learn from the good example of others. My father’s calm reaction to my outburst quickly and powerfully reminded me how I should act in those situations. Although I already knew how I should act, seeing his example provided me with a distinct reminder that has
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The Lord’s Pattern

I count it a great blessing and a privilege to speak today at this university conference. I love to come to this campus. Before I begin my formal remarks, I am going to tell you a little story about why I feel so strongly about this place. It is not only because as a student here for a year after my mission I found my professional calling to be a teacher and a scholar at the feet of truly, truly inspiring teachers like Larry T. Wimmer and others, but it is also because I met Sue here. I want to tell you this little story about why I get a chill that just covers me when I walk on this campus. I had met Sue, and we were in the same family home evening group. We went for a walk one night, and I had the very distinct impression from the Spirit: “This is your ­eternal companion.” Fortunately, she had the same feeling. Just a couple of days later I was walking along a diagonal sidewalk toward where in those days the sidewalks met in a big X, right about where the Harold B. Lee Library annex is now. I was walking along toward that X when the national anthem began playing, so I stopped. When it finished playing, I walked along the sidewalk and came to where the sidewalks crossed in an X. I ran into Sue right there in the middle of the X. It was on a Wednesday afternoon, and there were thousands of students in that area. And I ran into my eternal companion in the center of the X! I didn’t say this to the Lord, but I got it. Just a few weeks ago we celebrated our forty-fifth anniversary. She is the love of my life. I came here to find her because she wasn’t in Boston. She was here. I am so grateful. And whenever I walk on this campus I feel the same way. So I love to come here. And I love you. The Lord has blessed me with the gift of love for you. I believe He wants me in my responsibilities now to see you and love you the way He sees you and loves you. I pray that you will feel that love today. I also pray that the Holy Ghost will be with us as we consider together the implications of a very simple message. This message has come to me personally, but I feel that I should share it with you. The Need to Be Better Here it is: Whatever level of spirituality we now enjoy in our lives; whatever degree of faith in Jesus Christ we now have; whatever strength of commitment and consecration; whatever degree of obedience, hope, or charity is ours; and whatever level of professional skill or ability we have obtained, it will not be sufficient for the work that lies ahead. I believe this message fits into a beautiful pattern the Lord has established in the Restoration, beginning with His appearance with His Father to Joseph Smith in 1820. Line upon line, precept upon precept, and step by step, Jesus Christ has built up His Church and His people. He has said: For I will raise up unto myself a pure people, that will serve me in righteousness.1
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Inspiring Learning

It is a joy to be with you this morning. There is something about the beginning of a new school year that brings hope and optimism. Perhaps it is the chance to start out fresh—no matter how challenging the prior semester has been. Perhaps it is the promise that fall, with its crisp air and changing leaves—and, for me, football season—will soon arrive. Hopefully for all of us it is the thrill you feel in being involved in the intellect-expanding, soul-­refining, celestializing endeavor in which we are all engaged. This last year has brought many successes and a few challenges. Since we last met in this setting, more than 7,700 of our students graduated and moved on to the next phase of their lifelong learning process. During their stay here, many accomplished great things, ranging from receiving a Truman Scholarship to temple marriage. Others excelled as they represented the university in various settings. The BYU Ballroom Dance Company won the Blackpool competition in modern formation, a feat they have accomplished every time since 1989 that their three-year cycle has taken them back to England. They also took first place in Latin American formation—another repeat championship. The men’s volleyball team, the men’s rugby team, and the women’s rugby team all competed in their respective national championship games, all on the same day. Hopefully you can identify and celebrate other successes in your areas. They are evident all around us. Improvements have also been made to our campus infrastructure. We completed fund-raising for the new Engineering Building, and construction is now underway. Expansion of the Harman Building has begun, in large part to expand the online learning environment here on campus, and the new Marriott Center Annex, housing our men’s and women’s basketball teams, is nearing completion. My thanks to all those involved in these and numerous other projects on campus. We have also faced challenges in this past year—challenges that give us opportunities to improve. As I am sure you are all aware, we are examining in depth the reporting process for our students and other aspects of the way we handle sexual assault cases. It causes us deep sorrow to know that members of our community would be victimized in such a devastating way. We are anxious to help them. A group of faculty and administrators have worked tirelessly during the summer to help us know how best to do that. We anticipate that this fall the advisory council will present their recommendations to the President’s Council. We will then address the topic with the campus community more in depth. In the meantime, let me emphasize that the top priority in this extensive effort is the safety and well-being of our students, especially those who have been the victims of sexual assault. Efforts will continue until sexual assault is eliminated from our campus environment. Learning at Brig
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“The Lord Requireth the Heart and a Willing Mind”

Our university conference theme comes from Doctrine and Covenants 64:34: Behold, the Lord requireth the heart and a willing mind. It seems quite natural to talk about “a willing mind” in this setting of academics—with nearly 1,500 of you whose training and trade is thinking, sharing the products of your thinking with your disciplines, and guiding and focusing the thinking of students. The product of the mind is our business. However, in undertaking His work, the Lord requires both a willing mind and the heart. Nelson Mandela once wrote, “A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.”1 One might ask why the Lord needs both our minds and our hearts. It can be argued that the heart is the center of our humanity and the source of our love, motivation, desire, joy, anguish, satisfaction, hope, and aspiration. Consider for a moment how references to the heart are woven so frequently into our everyday idiomatic conversation: soft heart, hard heart, kind heart, halfhearted, bleeding heart, broken heart, heartthrob, heavy heart, faint of heart, eating your heart out, aching heart, from the bottom of your heart, the heart of the matter, follow your heart, heart of stone, heart of gold, bless his heart, heart-to-heart, learn by heart, sinking heart, makes my heart sing, my heart skips a beat, young at heart, pure in heart, my heart isn’t in it, pour your heart out, take heart. . . . I am sure you can think of even more examples. It seems that it is more the heart than the mind that defines us. You may have read in the national media in recent weeks the touching story of a woman from Swissvale, Pennsylvania, by the name of Jeni Stepien. In 2006 Jeni’s father was shot by a sixteen-year-old assailant in a robbery. He was mortally wounded, and the family made the difficult decision to donate his organs. Arthur Thomas from New Jersey, then sixty-two years old and suffering from congestive heart failure, was the recipient of Mr. Stepien’s heart. Late last year, ten years after losing her father, Jeni Stepien was engaged to be married, and her first thought after her engagement was, “Who will walk me down the aisle?” At her fiancé’s suggestion, Ms. Stepien asked Arthur Thomas—the recipient of her father’s donor heart—to do the honors, and he agreed. The wedding took place in the church in Swissvale in which Ms. Stepien’s parents had been married. Mr. Thomas suggested that as they walked down the aisle, Jeni grip his wrist, where his pulse was the strongest: “I thought that would be the best way for her to feel close to her dad,” he said, adding, “That’s her father’s heart beating.” After the ceremony the bride was photographed with her hand on Mr. Thomas’s chest. “I felt wonderful about bringing her dad’s heart,” said Mr. Thomas. “If I had to, I would’ve walked.”2 In our Latter-d
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Religion: Bound by Loving Ties

One of my BYU professors of yesteryear—actually quite a few yesteryears—was Edward L. Hart, who wrote the text of a much-loved hymn in the Church. The second verse of that hymn, Our Savior’s Love, reads this way: The Spirit, voice  Of goodness, whispers to our hearts A better choice  Than evil’s anguished cries. Loud may the sound  Of hope ring till all doubt departs, And we are bound  To him by loving ties.1 An omnibus word familiar to us all that summarizes these “loving ties” to our Heavenly Father is religion. Scholars debate the etymology of that word just as scholars and laymen alike debate almost everything about the subject of religion, but a widely accepted account of its origin suggests that our English word religion comes from the Latin word religare, meaning “to tie” or, more literally, “to re-tie.”2 In that root syllable of ligare you can hear the echo of a word such as ligature, which is what a doctor uses to sew us up if we have a wound. So, for our purpose today, religion is that which unites what was separated or holds together that which might be torn apart—an obvious need for us, individually and ­collectively, given the trials and tribulations we all experience here in mortality. What is equally obvious is that the great conflict between good and evil, right and wrong, the moral and the immoral—conflict that the world’s great faiths and devoted religious believers have historically tried to address—is being intensified in our time and is affecting an ever-wider segment of our culture. And let there be no doubt that the outcome of this conflict truly matters, not only in eternity but in everyday life as well. Will and Ariel Durant put the issue squarely as they reflected on what they called “the lessons of history.” “There is no significant example in history,” they said, “of [any] society successfully maintaining moral life without the aid of religion.”3 If that is true—and surely we feel it is—then we should be genuinely concerned over the assertion that the single most distinguishing feature of modern life is the rise of secularism with its attendant dismissal of, cynicism toward, or marked disenchantment with religion.4 How wonderfully prophetic our beloved Elder Neal A. Maxwell was—clear back in 1978—when he said in a BYU devotional: We shall see in our time a maximum . . . effort . . . to establish irreligion as the state religion. [These secularists will use] the carefully preserved . . . freedoms of Western civilization to shrink freedom even as [they reject] the value . . . of our r
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