The Meaning of Atonement

Summary: The atonement, the atonement of Jesus Christ, and the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ mean separate things and understanding the difference can help us apply atoning principles in our lives.

atonement basic doctrine least understood truths McConkieWhen I was a freshman at college, I remember hearing a quote from Bruce R. McConkie about the atonement that resonated with me. In the April 1985 General Conference, he said, “The atonement of Christ is the most basic and fundamental doctrine of the gospel, and it is the least understood of all our revealed truths” (The Purifying Power of Gethsemane). Wow! How could that be? If the atonement is the most fundamental doctrine of the gospel of Jesus Christ, it seems like it should be the most studied and most understood gospel truth. I took Elder McConkie’s statement as a personal challenge to study and understand the atonement better and I have strived to do so throughout my life since then.

One of my initial efforts to learn more about the atonement was to read James E. Talmage’s Jesus the Christ, one of the books on the approved missionary reading list, when I was a full-time missionary in Argentina. That was an educational and spiritually uplifting experience. Through the years I have read countless talks from LDS Church prophets, general authorities, and scholars on the subject of the atonement. A few years ago, I read Brother Callister’s book, The Infinite Atonement, and that was a very enlightening and helpful book. But the biggest strides I have made in understanding the atonement and how it applies to us has come through my personal scripture study and the spirit of revelation that has come to me as I have done so.

A few years ago, I had a major breakthrough in understanding the atonement when I was studying 2 Nephi chapter 2. I had a marvelous spiritual enlightening about the meaning of atonement. I had begun reading the Book of Mormon that time through with a new mindset and a fresh pair of eyes. I tried to erase any preconceived ideas about the gospel, and I tried to take in the concepts of the Book of Mormon in their purest form from God and the prophets who wrote the book. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was applying some advice from the McConkie talk referenced above to search the scriptures and “cast aside the philosophies of men and the wisdom of the wise and hearken to that Spirit which is given to us to guide us into all truth.”

As I read 2 Nephi chapter 2 verse 10, I realized that this was the first time in The Book of Mormon that the word atonement was used, so I paid special attention to its context and meaning. This led to a major outpouring of enlightenment from the Spirit of God, and somehow, in that moment, I gained great new insight into what atonement is and what it means. It seemed to me that the atonement was being spoken of in a way I had not previously defined it. Atonement sounded like a gospel principle that was being applied, not an event or something the Savior did for me. Of course, the Messiah did lay “down his life according to the flesh, and taketh it again by the power of the Spirit” as mentioned two verses earlier. But Lehi, who was speaking in this chapter, did not seem to equate the Savior’s death and resurrection with the word atonement.

first use of word atonement in the Book of Mormon2 Nephi 2:10 “And because of the intercession for all, all men come unto God; wherefore, they stand in the presence of him, to be judged of him according to the truth and holiness which is in him. Wherefore, the ends of the law which the Holy One hath given, unto the inflicting of the punishment which is affixed, which punishment that is affixed is in opposition to that of the happiness which is affixed, to answer the ends of the atonement.”

 

I began to realize that the previous definition of atonement in my mind was limited and the Lord started to expand my understanding. I’ll elaborate on my expanded view of the principle of atonement as we continue in this article, but suffice it to say for now that taking the shackles off my definition of atonement was key to understanding its meaning, power, and application to my life.

My understanding of atonement has continued to grow and evolve in the proceeding years as I shed misconceptions and gained new understanding through scripture study, reading articles by authorities, and through the spirit of revelation as I pondered the subject. While I think many Church members will benefit from my perspective on the atonement which I will share, I don’t claim that that my knowledge or understanding is complete or perfect. I simply feel the Lord has explained things to me in a way that my brain can understand them. This is my mental model of the atonement, if you will. If your mental model is different, then that’s okay. And if my mental model is wrong, then it is the fault of man, and not the fault of God.

Definitions of Atonement Differentiated

In my research, study, and pondering, I have identified three differentiated definitions of atonement:

  • Atonement as in the Atoning Sacrifice of Jesus Christ = The act of the Son of God suffering for our sins, bleeding from every pore, dying on the cross, and resurrecting on the third day.
  • Atonement as in the Atoning Mission of Jesus Christ = Everything that Christ has done and will do to make it possible for each of us to become like Him and the Father and become one with them and live in their presence eternally.
  • Atonement as in the Application of Atoning Principles = The eternal process of becoming one with God that each one of us must experience to become like Him and live in His presence eternally.

atonement meanings differentiated circles

Our Savior Jesus Christ is a key component of all three definitions. The Savior’s role is obvious in the first two, and the third cannot be completed without Him. We cannot each personally and fully apply the principles of atonement to our lives without the assistance of Jesus Christ. “Since man had fallen he could not merit anything of himself; but the sufferings and death of Christ atone for their sins, through faith and repentance” (Alma 22:14).

I may be getting a little bit ahead of myself, though. Before we dive into more detail on each one of the three meanings of atonement, let’s talk about the overarching meaning of the root word atone.

At One – The Atonement Etymology

I think one of the first keys in understanding the meaning of the atonement is understanding the origins and root meaning of the word. The “ment” suffix in the English language denotes an action or resulting state, a product, or means. Thus, the noun “atonement” is a form of the verb “atone,” and atonement means the action of atoning, or the resulting state of atoning, or the product of atoning, or the means of atoning. LDS scholar Hugh Nibley, who played an important role in helping increase my understanding of the atonement, confirms the etymology of the word atone. “Atonement, an accepted theological term, comes from neither a Greek nor a Latin word, but is good old English and really does mean, when we write it out, “at-one-ment,” denoting both a state of being “at one” with another and the process by which that end is achieved.” (The Atonement of Jesus Christ, Part 1 by Hugh W. Nibley).

Atonement state of being at one Hugh Nibley

When you take that as your definition of atonement, a whole new world of meaning and applications open up—at least it did so for me. For example, I have often thought long and hard about what it means that God the Father and Jesus Christ are one and what it means for us to be one with God (see John 17: 11, 21). My improved clarity on the meaning of the atonement helps me understand more what that means and how it is possible. I also begin to see how foundational the atonement is to the gospel and how it is an all-encompassing principle of truth. I begin to understand more the statement from Brigham Young that “Mormonism includes all truth. There is no truth but what belongs to the Gospel. It is life, eternal life; it is bliss; it is the fulness of all things in the gods and in the eternities of the gods” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, Chapter 2).

If it’s not all coming together yet, I apologize. The Spirit of God has, at times, given me great bursts of much knowledge all at once and also taught me line upon line over time. It all makes sense in my mind, but sometimes it’s difficult for me to figure out how to best present these topics in a linear fashion like this article. I think if we continue, it will start to make more sense. Let’s go back to those three definitions of atonement and look at each in more detail. We’ll start with the more granular definition and move up to the larger and overarching definitions.

Atonement as in the Atoning Sacrifice of Jesus Christ

Throughout my life in the Church, I have often heard the atonement equated with Jesus’ suffering in the garden of Gethsemane when he bled from every pore (Luke 22:44 and D&C 19:18). Or some have expanded that definition to say that the atonement began in Gethsemane and continued through the Savior’s scourging and crucifixion and resurrection. As I now understand, though, the Lord’s excruciating suffering in Gethsemane and on the cross, which he faithfully endured to the end for us, is better labeled the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. While the events over those days could qualify as the most crucial part of the atonement, I do not equate them with the atonement. The atonement, the general and overall term, is much bigger and we will explore that further in a moment.

I think people limit and hurt themselves by abbreviating the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ to a simple phrase like the atonement. Misuse of the term atonement may be a contributing factor to many members not understanding the atonement or how to apply the power of Jesus Christ in their lives. I think we as a Church would be better off to not use incomplete generalization phrases like “the atonement” or even “the atonement of Jesus Christ” to describe the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, even though those shortcut phrases have been used quite frequently by both Church members and leaders for many years. I know it will take a lot of time to break this habit, but it needs to happen if we are to really understand and benefit from these gospel principles.

President Russel M. Nelson, at the April 2017 General Conference, made some remarks to help us as a Church begin the process of better drawing on the power and blessings of the gospel of Jesus Christ when he corrected our language around the use of the word atonement. He said:

It is doctrinally incomplete to speak of the Lord’s atoning sacrifice by shortcut phrases, such as “the Atonement” or “the enabling power of the Atonement” or “applying the Atonement” or “being strengthened by the Atonement.” These expressions present a real risk of misdirecting faith by treating the event as if it had living existence and capabilities independent of our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ….There is no amorphous entity called ‘the Atonement’ upon which we may call for succor, healing, forgiveness, or power. Jesus Christ is the source. Sacred terms such as Atonement and Resurrection describe what the Savior did, according to the Father’s plan, so that we may live with hope in this life and gain eternal life in the world to come” (Drawing the Power of Jesus Christ into Our Lives by President Russell M. Nelson).

doctrinally incomplete shortcut phrases atonement nelson

I have been talking to my wife for years about the real meaning of atonement and the frequent misuse of the term, so I was very glad to hear a high-ranking authority like President Nelson address the subject with all members of the Church in the worldwide General Conference.

As I believe is now clear, the atonement isn’t the same as the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The atonement, in its true definition, includes much more than just the suffering in Gethsemane and on the cross by our Savior. I don’t wish to diminish in any way those events and what He did for all humanity by suffering in dying and resurrecting for us. I just think the atonement, as a principle and process, is much larger and grander. Even the phrase “the atonement of Jesus Christ” means much more than the atoning sacrifice because it includes His life and mission and that leads us into the second definition of atonement.

Atonement as in the Atoning Mission of Jesus Christ

If we delineate the atonement of Jesus Christ from His atoning sacrifice, it’s clear that His atonement is bigger or encompasses much more. Again, the atoning sacrifice was the crucial part, but in my mind, the atonement of Jesus Christ neither began in Gethsemane nor ended at the resurrection. I believe His atonement is the entirety of His mission. If we had to put starting and ending point on the atonement of Jesus Christ, I would say it began at the foundation of the world when Jehovah said “Here am I, send me” (Abraham 3:27) and it will not end until all mankind returns to the presence of God (see 2 Nephi 2:8-10 and Alma 42:15,23).

atonement began at the foundation of the worldAs I have read the scriptures and studied and pondered them, I no longer equate the atonement of our Savior with what He did for us on the cross or in the garden of Gethsemane. Rather, I think of the entire, eternal mission of Jesus Christ as His Atonement, including the process, power, and ultimate completion of making us one with Him and the Father. President Nelson, in his talk referenced above, backs up this definition of the atonement. “As Latter-day Saints, we refer to His mission as the Atonement of Jesus Christ, which made resurrection a reality for all and made eternal life possible for those who repent of their sins and receive and keep essential ordinances and covenants.”

The Atonement of Jesus Christ is real and powerful and cannot be underestimated in its eternal importance and infinite reach. But I think that perhaps the Latter-day Saints would understand the atonement better and how it applies to their life if we would talk about it differently. In my experience, many people talk about the atonement as if it is a magical power Jesus hands to us or a magic wand we can wave in order to get blessings or other results. I believe that the atonement and the power therein and the applications in our lives are much more tangible than that, if we come to truly understand it. And I believe that if we would talk about atonement like we talk about other principles of the gospel that it would be more applicable to our daily lives and overcoming our struggles. And that’s a nice segue to the third definition of atonement.

Atonement as in the Application of Atoning Principles

At its highest level, I believe atonement is an eternal, ongoing principle. Understanding this principle is what has been really impactful in my life in recent years. As I have come to understand the atonement as a principle, I realize why the confusion exists for many people between understanding the atonement of Jesus Christ and applying it to our lives. In order to understand the atonement as a principle, let’s visit again the definition of the word atone, which, as Brother Nibley pointed out, literally means the state of being “at one.” In the religious sense particularly, being at one means being at one with God, whole, complete, or integral, and atonement is the process by which that state of being at one is achieved.

Brother Nibley points out that “the word atonement appears only once in the New Testament (Rom. 5:11 in the King James Version), and in the Revised Standard Version it does not appear at all, the translators preferring the more familiar word reconciliation. (See also footnote to Rom. 5:11 in the LDS edition of the King James Version.) Reconciliation is a very good word for atonement there, since it means literally to be seated again with someone (re-con-silio)—so that atonement is to be reunited with God” (The Atonement of Jesus Christ, Part 1 by Hugh W. Nibley). He further explains other near synonyms for atonement are redemption, rescue, and resurrection. In my own study, I have found additional near synonyms of atonement throughout the scriptures such as unity, oneness, sealing, one eternal round, circumspection, return, repent, perfect, opposition, overcome, restore, truth, and integrity. Even the scriptural literary pattern of chiasms, which I will not go into here, illustrates the eternal principle of atonement.

third law of motion isaac newton

Newton’s Third Law of Motion – For Every Action There is an Equal and Opposite Reaction. Graphic by Simply Fresh Designs

In my mind, I often visualize the principle of atonement as symmetrical patterns or a complete circle. Newton’s Third Law of Motion—For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction—is also a good illustration of the principle of atonement. The Book of Mormon prophet Lehi, I believe, was articulating this understanding of the concept of atonement when he said “For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things” (2 Nephi 2:11). This statement, not coincidentally, came immediately after the first usage of the word atonement in the Book of Mormon as discussed above.

Many, perhaps all, laws and principles and ordinances of the gospel have root in the principle of atonement. Repentance demands that we make recompense for our mistakes, where possible, so things that we have broken can be made whole, or at one again. Because of the effect of our sins (the first half of the symmetry), baptism washes us (the second half of the symmetry), thus bringing us back to our former state of cleanliness, wholeness, or oneness before God. The law of sacrifice illustrates many principles of atonement, not the least of which is how it points to the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ which was completed to make things whole, or at one again. A central part of Jesus earthly ministry was healing, or making whole or at one, things that had gone wrong in this life.  In the law of consecration, everything that God gives us (the first half of the symmetry) we give back to Him (the second half of the symmetry), thus returning to a state of oneness. Vicarious temple work for our ancestors is an example of the effort to make things at one, as we do ordinances for those who, if not for the sins of the world in which they lived, would have received them during their life.

Part of the Law of Moses, as I understand it, illustrates the principle of atonement by prescribing a punishment equal to the crime with an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth (Exodus 21:24, Leviticus 24:20). Jesus taught the higher law to the Jews when he was on the earth, and that higher law also has roots in the principle of atonement. “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matt 5:38-39).

You may wonder how turning the other cheek is an illustration of the principle of atonement. I think the Book of Mormon prophet Nephi explains it well as he describes the suffering and crucifixion of the Savior which he saw in vision. “And the world, because of their iniquity, shall judge him to be a thing of naught; wherefore they scourge him, and he suffereth it; and they smite him, and he suffereth it. Yea, they spit upon him, and he suffereth it, because of his loving kindness and his long-suffering towards the children of men” (1 Nephi 19:9). We as mortal, imperfect beings commit sins, which is one half of the symmetry, and Jesus willing suffers for it, and that is the other half of the symmetry, thus bringing things back to a state of atonement.

When Jesus applied atoning principles to his life, we call that the atonement of Jesus Christ. We also need to apply atoning principles in our lives if we are to inherit the kingdom of Heaven and thus we need to perform our own work of atonement. In the Church, I’ve never heard anyone use language like that before, so I hope I’m not out of bounds putting it that way, but that is the natural conclusion of this line of thinking and the Spirit confirms its truthfulness to me. We help ourselves and others in the world get to the state of atonement by applying gospel principles. Take the following as a real-world, common example.

When someone cuts us off in traffic, we could get mad at them and yell and scream and cut them off in return, and that would be justified, but it does no one any good. Alternatively, we could also forgive them, let ourselves pay the consequence for their rude behavior, and then it does a world of good for them and for us. For us, it gives us power over our emotions and keeps us in control rather than being a slave to the natural man’s reaction. For them it also brings blessings, though it may more long-run than short-run, as they realize their mistakes and your magnanimity towards them, it will create feelings of sorrow initially, and then love and devotion toward you for enduring the effects of their mistakes. And you can see, then, how principles of atonement will eternally bless all parties in this fallen world in which we live. Applying atoning principles is what will eventually rise us from our fallen state and bring us back to the presence of God.

You see, then, how we can be “joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together” (Romans 8:17). You can see, then, how atonement is not something Jesus did for us so much as it is the application of principles of the gospel which we do together with Jesus. The Savior’s atoning sacrifice and His atoning mission are things Jesus did for us, and those cannot be replaced, nor can we progress without them. But one of the most common things Jesus taught during His earthly mission to was follow Him, and we are to do that by following His example in applying atoning principles in our lives. And we can better make that application and receive the blessings associated with it when we better understand the meaning of atonement.

With this new and improved understanding of atonement, I hope it is clear why President Nelson labeled as ‘doctrinally incomplete shortcut phrases’ the common things we tend to say in the Church like “applying the atonement of Jesus.” Throwing that phrase out like a sound bite or using it out of context will often twist, or perhaps obscure, the meaning of atonement. Because I have recognized the need to apply the larger concept of atonement to my life, in recent years, I have found myself speaking more in terms of principles of atonement, and only speaking of the atonement of Jesus Christ when I really mean his mission, and of course referring to the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ as just that and not with any shortcut phrases. Again, the very way that we talk about this subject could be the source of the trouble many people have in understanding and applying atonement to their lives. I have found that this mental and verbal change has made the atonement more applicable in my life and circumstances.

I should also point out that the “atonement” as a principle and the “atonement of Christ” as in His mission, could be considered synonymous if you think of the later phrase not as a singular event but rather as the atoning process that we all must go through for eternal life and exaltation, which is the same atoning process that Christ went through. I believe that each one of us needs to work out an atonement. That’s not to say that we must perform the same infinite atoning sacrifice that the Savior did—that is a gift from God. “For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent” (D&C 19:16). We do need, however, to reach a state of atonement, or unity with God. And the need to be one with God shouldn’t be a foreign concept to anyone familiar with the scriptures. “I say unto you, be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine” (D&C 38:27).

If being saved, in a religious sense, means being one with God, then I think we can safely paraphrase the third Article of Faith and encapsulate much of this discussion: We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be made one with God, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.

Conclusion

Atonement is both a central and all-encompassing principle of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The implications of this understanding of atonement are indeed infinite and eternal, as described in The Book of Mormon (2 Nephi 9:7, Alma 34:10-12). If your experience is anything like mine, as you come to understand the atonement more fully, the scriptures and the plan of salvation will open up to your mind like never before. You’ll start seeing the atonement, or atonement principles, everywhere in the gospel, throughout the scriptures and in all the dealings of God with man.

Perhaps it goes without saying, but these are my thoughts on the subject of atonement and do not necessarily represent those of my church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Of course, I feel my opinions are founded in the teachings of the prophets and in the scriptures, and most importantly in the inspiration from the Holy Ghost that I have received. If there are errors in what I have presented, they are my errors as an imperfect reflection of God’s perfect light and truth. The Spirit reveals many wonderful truths to my spirit, but my temporal mind and body is not yet in a state of atonement nor able to fully understand nor communicate these beautiful eternal principles.

I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface in answering the question about what the atonement means, but hopefully this has provided a good launching pad for you in your personal studies. I hope this explanation of how I see things has expanded your vision of the meaning and application of the atonement and that the Spirit of the Lord will continue to give you additional insights into how to apply it to your life.

The Exhausted West

Alexander SolzhenitsynI was only recently introduced to Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and I look forward to reading and learning more about him in the future. From what I understand*, Alexander was a loyal communist in his youth. Born in 1918, he became a commander in the Russian Soviet army during World War II. As the war in Europe drew to a close, Alexander was arrested by the Soviets for writing a letter to a friend that was disrespectful toward Joseph Stalin. He was sentenced to eight years in labor camps and it was during that time of imprisonment that he appears to have abandoned Marxism and developed the Christian religious and philosophical positions he was known for later in life.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn is perhaps best known as the author of “The Gulag Archipelago” and winner of the 1970 Nobel Prize in literature. Solzhenitsyn may be the originator of the term Gulag for the vast network of punitive institutions in Soviet Russia, or if not he at least gave the term prominence in the western world. In 1978, not long after his deportation from the Soviet Union, Alexander Solzhenitsyn delivered Harvard’s commencement speech. In that same year, Harvard published an article from Solzhenitsyn entitled The Exhausted West in which he charges the Western world with losing its courage and spiritual direction. I found the article most fascinating, prescient, and just as relevant today as when it was written nearly 40 years ago. Below are some of the quotes I found most interesting.


“The blindness of superiority continues in spite of all and upholds the belief that vast regions everywhere on our planet should develop and mature to the level of present-day Western systems, which in theory are the best and in practice the most attractive. There is the belief that all those other worlds are being only temporarily prevented by wicked governments or by heavy crises or by their own barbarity and incomprehension from taking the way of Western pluralistic democracy and adopting the Western way of life; countries are judged on their progress in this direction. However, this is a conception that developed out of Western incomprehension of the essence of other worlds, out of the mistake of measuring them all with a Western yardstick. The real picture of our planet’s development is quite different.”

“The Western world has lost its civil courage, both as a whole and separately, in each country, each government, each political party, and of course in the United Nations. Such a decline in courage is particularly noticeable among the ruling groups and the intellectual elite, causing an impression of loss of courage by the entire society. Of course there are many courageous individuals, but they have no determining influence on public life.”

“Decline in courage is ironically emphasized by occasional explosions of anger and inflexibility on the part of the same bureaucrats when dealing with weak governments and weak countries, not supported by anyone, or with currents that cannot offer any resistance. But they get tongue-tied and paralyzed when they deal with powerful governments and threatening forces, with aggressors and international terrorists.”

“When the modern Western states were created, the following principle was proclaimed: governments are meant to serve man, and man lives to be free and to pursue happiness. (See, for example, the American Declaration of Independence.) Now at last, during past decades, technical and social progress have permitted the realization of such aspirations: the welfare state. Every citizen has been granted the desired freedom and material goods in such quantity and of such quality as to guarantee, in theory, the achievement of happiness, in the morally inferior sense that has come into being during those same decades.”

“People in the West have acquired considerable skill in using, interpreting, and manipulating law. Any conflict is solved according to the letter of the law, and this is considered to be the supreme solution. If one is right from a legal point of view, nothing more is required. Nobody may mention that one could still not be entirely right, and urge self-restraint, a willingness to renounce such legal rights, sacrifice, and selfless risk: it would sound simply absurd. One almost never sees voluntary self-restraint. Everybody operates at the extreme limit of those legal frames.”

“A society that is based on the letter of the law and never reaches any higher is taking very small advantage of the high level of human possibilities. The letter of the law is too cold and formal to have a beneficial influence on society. Whenever the tissue of life is woven of legalistic relations, there is an atmosphere of moral mediocrity, paralyzing man’s noblest impulses. And it will be, simply, impossible to stand through the trials of this threatening century with only the support of a legalistic structure.”

“A statesman who wants to achieve something important and highly constructive for his country has to move cautiously and even timidly: there are thousands of hasty and irresponsible critics around him; parliament and the press keep rebuffing him. As he moves ahead, he has to prove that each single step of his is well founded and absolutely flawless. In fact, an outstanding and particularly gifted person who has unusual and unexpected initiatives in mind hardly gets a chance to assert himself; from the very beginning, dozens of traps will be set for him. Thus mediocrity triumphs, with the excuse of restrictions imposed by democracy.”

human obligations Alexander Solzhenitsyn“The defense of individual rights has reached such extremes as to make society as a whole defenseless against certain individuals. It is time, in the West, to defend not so much human rights as human obligations.”

“Destructive and irresponsible freedom has been granted boundless space. Society appears to have little defense against the abyss of human decadence, such as, for example, the misuse of liberty for moral violence against young people, motion pictures full of pornography, crime, and horror. It is considered to be part of freedom and theoretically counterbalanced by the young people’s right not to look or not to accept. Life organized legalistically has thus shown its inability to defend itself against the corrosion of evil.”

“Strangely enough, though the best social conditions have been achieved in the West, there still is criminality and there even is considerably more of it than in the pauper and lawless Soviet society.”

“There is no moral responsibility for deformation or disproportion. What sort of responsibility does a journalist have to his readers, or to history? …Because instant and credible information has to be given, it becomes necessary to resort to guesswork, rumors, and suppositions to fill in the voids, and none of them will ever be rectified; they will slay on in the readers’ memory. How many hasty, immature, superficial, and misleading judgments are expressed every day, confusing readers, without any verification. The press can both simulate public opinion and miseducate it.”

“Enormous freedom exists for the press, but not for the readership, because newspapers mostly give emphasis to those opinions that do not too openly contradict their own and the general trend.”

“Without any censorship, in the West, fashionable trends of thought are carefully separated from those that are not fashionable. Nothing is forbidden, but what is not fashionable will hardly ever find its way into periodicals or books or- be heard in colleges. Legally, your researchers are free, but they are conditioned by the fashion of the day. There is no open violence such as in the East; however, a selection dictated by fashion and the need to match mass standards frequently prevents independent-minded people from giving their contribution to public life. There is a dangerous tendency to form a herd, shutting off successful development.”

“It is almost universally recognized that the West shows all the world a way to successful economic development, even though in the past years it has been strongly disturbed by chaotic inflation. However, many people living in the West are dissatisfied with their own society. They despise it or accuse it of not being up to the level of maturity attained by mankind. A number of such critics turn to socialism, which is a false and dangerous current. I hope that no one present will suspect me of offering my personal criticism of the Western system to present socialism as an alternative.”

socialism total destruction of the human spirit Alexander Solzhenitsyn“A brilliant book under the title Socialism; it is a profound analysis showing that socialism of any type and shade leads to a total destruction of the human spirit and to a leveling of mankind unto death.”

“I could not recommend your society in its present state as an ideal for the transformation of ours. Through intense suffering our country has now achieved a spiritual development of such intensity that the Western system in its present state of spiritual exhaustion does not look attractive.”

“The fight for our planet, physical and spiritual, a fight of cosmic proportions, is not a vague matter of the future; it has already started. The forces of Evil have begun their offensive-you can feel their pressure-and yet your screens and publications are full of prescribed smiles and raised glasses. What is the joy about?”

“Very well known representatives of your society, such as George Kennan, say: we cannot apply moral criteria to politics. Thus we mix good and evil, right and wrong, and make space for the absolute triumph of absolute Evil in the world. On the contrary, only moral criteria can help the West against Communism’s well-planned world strategy. There are no other criteria. Practical or occasional considerations of any kind will inevitably be swept away by strategy. After a certain level of the problem has been reached, legalistic thinking induces paralysis; it prevents one from seeing the size and meaning of events.”

“The most cruel mistake occurred with the failure to understand the Vietnam War. Some people sincerely wanted all wars to stop just as soon as possible; others believed that there should be room for national, or Communist, self·determination in Vietnam, or in Cambodia, as we see today with particular clarity. But members of the U.S. anti-war movement wound up being involved in the betrayal of Far Eastern nations, in a genocide and in the suffering today imposed on 30 million people there. Do those convinced pacifists hear the moans coming from there? Do they understand their responsibility today? Or do they prefer not to hear? The American intelligentsia lost its nerve, and as a consequence thereof danger has come much closer to the United States. But there is no awareness of this. Your short-sighted politicians who signed the hasty Vietnam capitulation seemingly gave America a carefree breathing spell; however, a hundred fold Vietnam now looms over you.”

“No weapons, no matter how powerful, can help the West until it overcomes its loss of will power.”

“The mistake must be at the root, at the very basis of human thinking in the past centuries. I refer to the prevailing Western view of the world, which was first born during the Renaissance and found its political expression in the period of the Enlightenment. It became the basis for government and social science and could be defined as rationalistic humanism or humanistic autonomy: the proclaimed and enforced autonomy of man from any higher force above him. It could also be called anthropocentricity, with man seen as the center of everything that exists.”

“The turn introduced by the Renaissance evidently was inevitable historically. The Middle Ages had come to a natural end by exhaustion, becoming an intolerable despotic repression of man’s physical nature in favor of the spiritual one. Then, however, we turned our backs upon the Spirit and embraced all that is material with excessive and unwarranted zeal. This new way of thinking, which had imposed on us its guidance, did not admit the existence of intrinsic evil in man nor did it see any higher task than the attainment of happiness on earth. It based modern Western civilization on the dangerous trend to worship man and his material needs.”

“Everything beyond physical well-being and accumulation of material goods, all other human requirements and characteristics of a subtler and higher nature, were left outside the area of attention of state and social systems, as if human life did not have any superior sense. That provided access for evil, of which in our day there is a free and constant flow. Mere freedom does not in the least solve all the problems of human life and it even adds a number of new ones.”

“However, in early democracies, as in American democracy at the time of its birth, all individual human rights were granted because man is God’s creature. That is, freedom was given to the individual conditionally, in the assumption of his constant religious responsibility.”

“A total liberation occurred from the moral heritage of Christian centuries, with their great reserves of mercy and sacrifice. State systems were becoming increasingly and totally materialistic. The West ended up by truly enforcing human rights, sometimes even excessively, but man’s sense of responsibility to God and society grew dimmer and dimmer.”

“All the glorified technological achievements of Progress, including the conquest of outer space, do not redeem the twentieth century’s moral poverty.”

socialism could never resist Communism Alexander Solzhenitsyn“Humanism without its Christian heritage cannot resist such competition. We watch this process in the past centuries and especially in the past decades, on a world scale as the situation becomes increasingly dramatic. Liberalism was inevitably displaced by radicalism, radicalism had to surrender to socialism, and socialism could never resist Communism.”

“The Communist regime in the East could stand and grow thanks to the enthusiastic support it received from an enormous number of Western intellectuals who felt a kinship and refused to see Communism’s crimes. When they no longer could ignore the crimes, they tried to justify them. In our Eastern countries, Communism has suffered a complete ideological defeat; it is zero and less than zero. But Western intellectuals still look at it with interest and with empathy, and this is precisely what makes it so immensely difficult for the West to withstand the East.”

“Imperfect man, who is never free of pride, self-interest, envy, vanity, and dozens of other defects. We are now experiencing the consequences of mistakes that were not noticed at the beginning of the journey. On the way from the Renaissance to our day we have enriched our experience, but we have lost the concept of a Supreme Complete Entity, which used to restrain our passions and our irresponsibility. We have placed too much hope in political and social reforms, only to find that we were being deprived of our most precious possession: our spiritual life. In the East, it is destroyed by the dealings and machinations of the ruling party. In the West, commercial interests tend to suffocate it. This is the real crisis. The split in the world is less terrible than the similarity of the disease plaguing its main sections.”

“If humanism were right in declaring that man is born only to be happy, he would not be born to die. Since his body is doomed to die, his task on earth evidently must be of a more spiritual nature. It cannot be unrestrained enjoyment of everyday life. It cannot be the search for the best ways to obtain material goods and then cheerfully to get the most out of them. It has to be the fulfillment of a permanent, earnest duty. so that one’s life journey may become an experience of moral growth, so that one may leave life a better human being than one started it. It is imperative to review the table of widespread human values. Its present incorrectness is astounding. It is not possible that assessment of the President’s performance be reduced to the question of how much money one makes or of unlimited availability of gasoline. Only voluntary, inspired self·restraint can raise man above the world stream of materialism.”

“If the world has not come to its end, it has approached a major turn in history, equal in importance to the turn from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. It will exact from us a spiritual upsurge: we shall have to rise to a new height of vision, to a new level of life, where our physical nature will not be cursed as in the Middle Ages, but, even more important, our spiritual being will not be trampled upon as in the modern era. This ascension will be similar to climbing up to the next anthropologic stage. No one on earth has any other way left but–upward.”


* Alexander (often Aleksandr) Solzhenitsyn, according to Wikipedia, “was a Russian novelist, historian, and short story writer. He was an outspoken critic of the Soviet Union and communism and helped to raise global awareness of its Gulag forced labor camp system. …Solzhenitsyn was awarded the 1970 Nobel Prize in Literature …[and] was eventually expelled from the Soviet Union in 1974, but returned to Russia in 1994 after the state’s dissolution.” In February 1945, “Solzhenitsyn was arrested for writing derogatory comments in private letters to a friend, Nikolai Vitkevich, about the conduct of the war by Joseph Stalin. …He was accused of anti-Soviet propaganda under Article 58 paragraph 10 of the Soviet criminal code, and of “founding a hostile organization” under paragraph 11. Solzhenitsyn was taken to the Lubyanka prison in Moscow, where he was interrogated. On 7 July 1945, he was sentenced in his absence by Special Council of the NKVD to an eight-year term in a labour camp.”

What the Prophets have Taught about Christopher Columbus

While I have always had high esteem for Christopher Columbus, he seems to be increasingly criticized into today’s world. I hear reports that kids growing up today are told in school that he was a horrible man. Not fully understanding these criticisms, I recently undertook to studying about his life and accomplishments, including reading a new biography on Columbus called “Christopher Columbus: A Man among Gentiles” written by an LDS author, Clark B. Hinckley. While I have titled this post “Mormons’ View of Christopher Columbus” it might be better titled “This Mormon’s View of Christopher Columbus.” Please be aware that my writings are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Mormon Church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

What the Prophets have Taught about Christopher ColumbusThis PowerPoint presentation was given at the LDS Institute of Religion on Nov 3, 2017.

That We May be RedeemedColumbus Appeared in Spirit to Wilford Woodruff

In August 1877, Wilford Woodruff, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, was the first president of the recently dedicated St. George Temple of the LDS Church. He reported that one day, the spirits of the founding fathers of the United States of America and other prominent men, and possibly women as well, appeared to him and asked for temple ordinances to be performed in their behalf:

“The spirits of the dead gathered around me, wanting to know why we did not redeem them. Said they, “You have had the use of the Endowment House for a number of years, and yet nothing has ever been done for us. We laid the foundation of the government you now enjoy, and we never apostatized from it, but we remained true to it and were faithful to God.” . . . They waited on me for two days and two nights. I thought it very singular, that notwithstanding so much work had been done, and yet nothing had been done for them . . . I straightway went into the baptismal font and called upon brother McCallister [J. D. T. McCallister, first counselor in the temple presidency] to baptize me for the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and fifty other eminent men, making one hundred in all, including John Wesley, Columbus, and others.” (Wilford Woodruff, in Journal of Discourses, 19:229. Also see Benson, Ezra Taft This Nation Shall Endure, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1977, 22.)

Columbus–A Man among the Gentiles

Portrait of Christopher ColumbusWhile it is interesting to note is that Christopher Columbus was among these “eminent men,” for Latter-day Saints, this is no surprise given the mention of him in the Book of Mormon. Mormons believe that Christopher Columbus is mentioned, though not by name, in the Book of Mormon when the ancient American prophet Nephi sees in vision the discovery and colonizing of America.

“And I looked and beheld a man among the Gentiles, who was separated from the seed of my brethren by the many waters; and I beheld the Spirit of God, that it came down and wrought upon the man; and he went forth upon the many waters, even unto the seed of my brethren, who were in the promised land” (1 Nephi 13:12).

James E. Talmage, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the early 1900s, said this in his seminal book, Jesus the Christ, regarding Columbus:

“Unto Nephi, son of Lehi, was shown the future of his people, including the degeneracy of a branch thereof, afterward known as Lamanites and in modern times as American Indians. The coming of a man from among the Gentiles, across the deep waters, was revealed in such plainness as to positively identify that man with Columbus; and the coming of other Gentiles to this land, out of captivity, is equally explicit. … The establishment of a great Gentile nation on the American continent, the subjugation of the Lamanites or Indians, the war between the newly established nation and Great Britain, or “their mother Gentiles,” and the victorious outcome of that struggle for independence, are set forth with equal clearness in the same chapter.”

Elder Mark E. Petersen, another apostle of the Quorum of the Twelve, also confirmed that that man among the Gentiles is Columbus.

When Columbus went to King Ferdinand, he said, “I came to Your Majesty as the emissary of the Holy Ghost.” When he stood before the clergy of San Esteban, he insisted to them that he must be regarded as a man inspired. Columbus’s own son, Fernando, in a biography of his father, quotes the discoverer as saying on one occasion, “God gave me the faith and afterward the courage so that I was quite willing to undertake the journey.” And the last will and testament of Christopher Columbus includes this expression: “In the name of the Most Holy Trinity, who inspired me with the idea and afterward made perfectly clear to me that I could navigate and go to the Indies from Spain by traversing the ocean westward” (Wasserman, Columbus, pp. 46, 61). Columbus was inspired, and Nephi looked upon him and beheld him coming to the Western Hemisphere” (Elder Mark E. Petersen – The Great Prologue, BYU Speeches, Sep. 29, 1974).

Finally, Gordon B. Hinckley, 15th president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, confirmed this about Christopher Columbus:

“The entire world is celebrating this month the five hundredth anniversary of the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus. Admiral Samuel Eliot Morison, his biographer, says, “This night of October 11–12 [1492] was one big with destiny for the human race, the most momentous ever experienced aboard any ship in any sea.” (Admiral of the Ocean Sea: A Life of Christopher Columbus, Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1942, p. 223.)

“In my private commemoration of this event, I have read and reread one important and prophetic verse from the Book of Mormon [1 Ne. 13:12], and also a very long biography of Christopher Columbus. …We interpret that [verse] to refer to Columbus. It is interesting to note that the Spirit of God wrought upon him. After reading that long biography, a Pulitzer winner of forty years ago, titled Admiral of the Ocean Sea—I have no doubt that Christopher Columbus was a man of faith, as well as a man of indomitable determination” (Building Your Tabernacle – Gordon B. Hinckley – October 1992).

Christopher Columbus Vicariously Ordained a High Priest

President Ezra Taft Benson,  13th president of the Church, said that not only was Christopher Columbus among the eminent men who appeared to Wilford Woodruff, but Columbus was one of only four men ever known to be vicariously ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood office of High Priest.

“The temple work for the fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence and other Founding Fathers has been done. All these appeared to Wilford Woodruff when he was president of the St. George Temple. President George Washington was ordained a high priest at that time. You will also be interested to know that, according to Wilford Woodruff’s journal, John Wesley, Benjamin Franklin, and Christopher Columbus were also ordained high priests at that time. When one casts doubt about the character of these noble sons of God, I believe he or she will have to answer to the God of heaven for it.” (Benson, Ezra Taft This Nation Shall Endure, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1977, 22.)

The Lord Opened My Mind

Now let’s take a closer look at Christopher Columbus’ life and events and the things he is known to have said and done which provide evidence as to why the eminent figure of history has been so honored by Mormon prophets and members. In chapter 1 of Christopher Columbus –  A Man among Gentiles, author Clark B. Hinckley says,

“Columbus himself knew exactly why he was compelled, against all odds, to do what he did. He described his motivation in these remarkable words: ‘With a hand that could be felt, the Lord opened my mind to the fact that it would be possible to sail and he opened my will to desire to accomplish the project . . . This was the fire that burned within me . . . Who can doubt that this fire was not merely mine, but also of the Holy Spirit . . . urging me to press forward?’ (West and Kling, Libro, 105.) The story of Columbus is, among many other things, a story of the fulfillment of prophecy. More than two thousand years passed from the time that simple prophecy was recorded by Nephi in the wilderness of Arabia until the fulfillment of that prophecy with Columbus’s successful voyage of discovery. And without access to Nephi’s prophecy, Columbus himself described its perfect and exact fulfillment.”

Columbus further stated about the years he spent getting approval and financing to make the voyage across the Atlantic: “I spent seven years here in your royal court discussing this subject with the leading persons in all the learned arts, and their conclusion was that all was in vain. That was the end, and they gave it up. But afterwards it all turned out just as our redeemer Jesus Christ had said, and as he had spoken earlier by the mouth of his holy prophets” (West and Kling, Libro, 107).

Near Mutiny Almost Terminated the Voyage before His Discovery

Christopher Columbus on Santa Maria in 1492On August 3, 1492, Columbus departed from Spain with three ships: the Santa María, captained by Columbus, and two smaller vessels, the Pinta and the Niña. Columbus first sailed to the Canary  Islands, where he restocked provisions and made repairs to his ships. The three ships then departed on September 6th for what turned out to be a five-week voyage across the ocean, though they weren’t without drama before they reached their destination on October 12, 1492. This is what Hinckley reports in Chapter 6 of his book:

“On 9 October, when the winds were light and the ships were traveling at only about 2 knots, the Pinzón brothers came aboard the Santa María, where they ‘held a more or less stormy conference with Columbus in his cabin, demanded that the search for land be abandoned, and that advantage be taken of the southerly breeze to start home.’ Morison concludes that Columbus convinced his captains to carry on for three more days and that the captains returned to their respective ships. On the morning of 10 October the wind picked up and the ships sped along at 7 knots. The renewed easterly winds fueled fears among the crew that a return voyage would be impossible, and the men confronted Columbus ‘with one voice’ demanding that he turn back. (Morison, Admiral of the Ocean Sea, 220–21.) This was where the enterprise came the closest to failure.”

“…One can hardly blame the sailors for their concerns nor consider them cowardly for their desire to turn around and head home. They had experienced two false landfalls, they had been in open ocean at least twice as long as any previous expedition, and by every reasonable measure they were beyond where they had been told they would find land. They had passed the 65th meridian and were north of Puerto Rico. If one looks at a map today and blocks out the Americas—unknown to Columbus and his crew—one might begin to sense the growing despair, even fear, felt by the crew. Morison characterized the attempted mutiny with these observations: ‘It was . . . the inevitable conflict between a man of one great, compelling idea and those who did not share it in anything like the same degree . . . Their issue with their commander was the eternal one between imagination and doubt, between the spirit that creates and the spirit that denies.’ (Morison, Admiral of the Ocean Sea, 215.) Columbus was unwavering, and his vision prevailed.”

Guardian Angel of America

Landing of ColumbusOrson Hyde said that the Book of Mormon prophet Moroni “calmed the troubled elements” during Columbus’ voyage, he might well have been referring to those events of October 9-10, 1492. Orson Hyde was called as one of the original members of the Twelve Apostles by the Prophet Joseph Smith in the early days of the restoration of gospel of Jesus Christ. He gave a patriotic talk about America in Salt Lake City on July 4, 1854 in which he referred to Moroni as the “guardian angel of America.” Elder Hyde said, “That same angel of God that appeared to Joseph Smith presides over the destiny of the United States of America.” Elder Hyde said that Moroni was in the camp with George Washington and helped when he had trouble. He said that same angel was with Christopher Columbus and gave him deep impressions and dreams and visions respecting the new world. And according to Elder Glen L. Rudd in a BYUI Devotional, “that same angel was with Columbus on the stormy deep. He guided his frail vessel to the desired haven, and he calmed the troubled elements” (see The Angel Moroni by Elder Glen L. Rudd, BYU–Idaho Devotional – March 11, 2003).

Comfort from a Celestial Voice

During Columbus’ fourth voyage to the Americas, he and his crew encountered many terrible storms, they had a failed attempt to establish a settlement in Central America, they had many battles and with the native inhabitants, and eventually became shipwrecked and stranded on the island of Jamaica. During this voyage, on 6 April 1503, Columbus had one of the seminal experiences of his life where he heard a celestial voice both chastise him and comfort him and buoy him up.

“I was completely alone outside on this dangerous coast in a high fever and a state of great exhaustion. All hope of escape was dead. I struggled up to the highest point of the ship, weeping and calling in a trembling voice to your Highnesses’ Lord of Hosts in every direction for comfort, but there was no reply. Exhausted and groaning, I fell as if asleep and heard a very compassionate voice saying:

‘O fool, slow to believe and serve thy God, the God of all! What more did he do for Moses or David his servant than he has done for thee? Since thou wast born, ever has He had thee in His watchful care. When He saw thee at an age that pleased Him, He caused thy name to sound marvelously in the land. The Indies, which were so rich a part of the world, He gave thee for thine own; thou hast divided them as it pleased thee, and He enabled thee to do this. Of the barriers of the Ocean Sea, which were closed with such mighty chains, He gave thee the key; and thou wast obeyed in many lands, and among Christians thou hast gained an honorable fame. What did He do more for the people of Israel when He brought them out of Egypt? Or for David, who from a shepherd He made to be King of Judea? Turn thyself to Him, and know now thine error; His mercy is infinite; thine old age shall not prevent thee from achieving all great things; He has many inheritances very great. Abraham was over a hundred years old when he begat Isaac, and Sarah was not a young girl. Thou criest for help, doubting. Answer, who has afflicted thee so greatly and so often, God or the world? The privileges, letters and promises that God gives are all fully kept, and after receiving service his favors increase and He grants his servants paradise. I have spoken of that which thy Creator has done for thee and does for all men. Now in part He shows thee the reward for the anguish and danger which thou hast endured in the service of others.’

“I heard all of this as if I were only partially conscious, and I had no answer to give to words so true, but could only weep for my errors. He, whoever he was who spoke to me, ended by saying: “Fear not; have trust; all these tribulations are written upon marble and are not without cause.”( Varela and Gil, Textos, 491–92)

A Divinely Chosen Person

The Book of Prophecies (in Spanish, El Libro de las Profecías) is a compilation of writing and revelations written by Christopher Columbus towards the end of his life. In Delno West’s introduction to the English translation of the book, he summarizes Columbus’ character and motives:

“Christopher Columbus looked upon himself as a man of destiny who had been given a charismatic gift to understand Scripture, navigation, maps, winds, tides, astronomy, cosmography, mathematics and related sciences. His understanding of his mission, or enterprise, was drawn from the Bible or proved by the Bible, and he knew that he was opening up new lands rich with gold and other valuables. He believed himself a chosen person working for the good of all Christendom in opening up the rest of the world to the gospel message. He knew that he would be misunderstood and maligned, but he accepted that as the lot of a divinely chosen person” (Libro de las profecias, p. 105. Raccolta, pt. I, vol. ii, p. 79. Also see Columbus and the Hand of God by De Lamar Jensen, Emeritus professor of history at BYU, Ensign Magazine, October 1992).

A Man Alone with God

Samuel Eliot Morison, author of Admiral of the Ocean Sea, said this of Columbus.

“For he was not, like a Washington, a Cromwell or a Bolivar, an instrument chosen by multitudes to express their wills and lead a cause; Columbus was a Man with a Mission. . . . He was Man alone with God against human stupidity and depravity, against greedy conquistadors, cowardly seamen, even against nature and the sea. Always with God, though. . . . Men may doubt this, but there can be no doubt that the faith of Columbus was genuine and sincere, and that his frequent communion with forces unseen was a vital element in his achievement.” (Samuel Eliot Morison, Admiral of the Ocean Sea (Boston: Little, Brown, 1942), 46—47.)

Columbus and Revelation

LDS Church scholar Hugh Nibley wrote about Christopher Columbus in chapter 2 of his book, The Prophetic Book of Mormon. Said Nibley:

“[Columbus’] contemporary and friend, Las Casas, in an oft-quoted passage says he was as certain of finding what he said he would as if he had it already locked up in his trunk. Las Casas tells how “from all sides and in many ways did God give Columbus motives and causes that he should not doubt to undertake so great a deed,” and that “God seemed to move him on by constant pushes.” (Bartolome de las Casas, Historia de las Indias (Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Economica, 1951), 27—34.) Everything else in Columbus’ life is subservient to the carrying out of that one mission. The aim and purpose of all his work and suffering was what happened at 2 A.M. on the morning of October 12, 1492, and must not be judged by what happened after (it was “the wrath of God upon the seed of my brethren,” says Nephi), or by any other quirks or misadventures. In retrospect we see that this is so—but Columbus himself always knew it was: God had chosen him to do this one great deed.

“… Sailing into a perfect blank on the map, Columbus infallibly did the right thing: “He did not make a single false move in the entire voyage!” says the geographer Professor Nunn. He maintains that Columbus must have been the discoverer of the Trade and prevailing Westerly Winds since it was only by taking fullest advantage of both that his journey was possible—yet his subsequent voyages show that Columbus knew nothing about the wind system. (See George E. Nunn, The Geographical Conceptions of Columbus, New York: American Geographical Society, 1924.) This was not Columbus’ doing. Neither was the flight of birds that appeared just in time to keep the ships from turning back, nor the sudden rising of the sea that at another time inspired the expedition to continue. Call it what you will, Columbus was convinced he was being helped.

“Finally a day came when he was forced to give the whole fleet his solemn word that he would turn back within two days if land was not discovered—and on the morning of the second day land was discovered. About eight or nine hours before the discovery, at sunset on October 11, Columbus gave a strange and sudden order for a marked change of course. ‘Why he did this, nobody explained,’ writes Professor Morison, a very sober historian and a nautical expert. (Morison, Admiral of the Ocean Sea, 223.) But he assures us that if he had not done it, the great discovery of October 12, 1492, would have been a tragic discovery of deadly reefs that lay but a short distance dead ahead of the little fleet on its original course….’No man alive,’ says Morison, speaking as a mariner, ‘limited to the instruments and means at Columbus’s disposal, could obtain anything near the accuracy of his results.’ (Morison, Admiral of the Ocean Sea, 195.)

Columbus and the Hand of God

“I could sense [God’s] hand upon me,” wrote Columbus, “so that it became clear to me that it was feasible to navigate from here to the Indies, and he gave me the will to do it” (Raccolta, pt. I, vol. ii, p. 79.). Regarding Columbus’ feeling of guidance by the hand of God, professor of history at BYU De Lamar Jensen said:

“Perhaps nothing irked his contemporaries more than Columbus’s frank assertion that he was divinely chosen. ‘God made me the messenger of the new heaven and the new earth, of which He spoke in the Apocalypse of St. John after having spoken of it by the mouth of Isaiah,’ Columbus wrote to a friend and confidant of the queen, ‘and he showed me where to find it.’ (Columbus to Doña Juana de la Torre, Raccolta di documenti e studi pubblicati della R. Commissione Colombiana, pt. I, vol. ii; I Scriti di Cristoforo Colombo, ed. Cesare de Lollis (Rome: 1894), p. 66.)

“…Columbus was convinced that the key to his enterprise was the spiritual gifts given him by the Lord: ‘He bestowed the arts of seamanship upon me in abundance, and has given me what was necessary from [astronomy], geometry, and arithmetic; and has given me adequate inventiveness in my soul.’ Columbus was certain that God provided these gifts to be used in His service, ‘encouraging me to go forward, and without ceasing they inflame me with a sense of great urgency.’ (Ibid., p. 79. also see Columbus and the Hand of God By De Lamar Jensen, Emeritus professor of history at BYU, Ensign Magazine, October 1992)

God Gave Me the Spirit and Intelligence for It

From chapter 18 of Clark B. Hinckley’s book, he summarizes Christopher Columbus’ life this way:

“Finally, what emerges from Columbus’s words as we have them in his letters, journals, and other documents is a man of deep and abiding faith. His piety was not a hollow set of daily rituals or outward appearances; his faith in God was the foundation of all he did, it was the driver of his life, and it sustained him through disappointment, rejection, and deep discouragement. He was ‘longsuffering in the challenges and adversity that always beset him, which were incredible and infinite, always with great faith in the divine Providence’ (Las Casas, Historia, 1:44). His faith begat hope that enabled him to do what others deemed impossible. He prayed with faith and received answers through faith: ‘I prayed to the most merciful Lord concerning my desire, and he gave me the spirit and the intelligence for it’ (West and Kling, Libro, 105).”

Columbus as a Forerunner to Christ like John the Baptist

Historian and biographer Felipe Fernandez-Armesto observed that Columbus, “saw himself, like that other hero of his, John the Baptist, as ‘a man sent from God.’”(Columbus on Himself, 156.) Columbus saw himself in a similar role as the forerunner of Jesus Christ to help pave the way for our Savior’s second coming. Christopher Columbus expert Delano West observed, “John the Baptist was . . . the messenger of the New Testament. He paved the way for Christ’s mission during the First Advent as Columbus would pave the way for the Second Advent.”(West and Kling, Libro, 73) Washington Irving, in his landmark biography of the Admiral of the Ocean Sea, observed that Columbus “considered his great discovery but as a preparatory dispensation of Providence.” (Irving, Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus, 57)

Why Columbus Matters: The Protestant Revolution

Columbus historian Clark B. Hinckley notes:

“When Columbus’s little storm-battered ship floated into Lisbon in March 1493, it was as if someone had struck a match in dry tinder. The news spread across Europe with remarkable speed, and as old ideas faded, a new landscape—not just geographical but intellectual, artistic, and spiritual—emerged. …Not only did Columbus unlock the gates of the Ocean Sea but his accomplishments were a decisive factor in unlocking the intellectual and spiritual darkness that had encompassed Europe for centuries and was just beginning to fade. An awakening of the human spirit would be felt across Europe and manifest in many ways. In 1517, Martin Luther would publish his ninety-five theses, daring to speak out against corruption in Rome and forcing reforms in the Church. Luther would later translate the Bible into German, a work that would have an enormous effect on German culture. Luther’s work would be followed by William Tyndale’s translation of the Bible into English in 1525, the publication of which would change not only English history but the English language. …With new protestant churches in Germany and England, the Reformation would become the Protestant revolution.” (Christopher Columbus: A Man among Gentiles, Chapter 17, Why Columbus Matters)

It all turned out just as our redeemer Jesus Christ had said

One of the most remarkable aspects of Christopher Columbus’s life and character is the degree to which he understood his God-given mission, divine protection, and place in history. Said Columbus:

“The Lord purposed that there should be something clearly miraculous in this matter of the voyage to the Indies . . . I spent seven years here in your royal court discussing this subject with the leading persons in all the learned arts, and their conclusion was that all was in vain. That was the end, and they gave it up. But afterwards it all turned out just as our redeemer Jesus Christ had said, and as he had spoken earlier by the mouth of his holy prophets.” (West and Kling, Libro, 107)

Landing Page Optimization Checklist

Landing Page Optimization ChecklistSome time ago, I created this landing page optimization checklist to make it easier for the people at my company who build landing pages to do them in the most optimal way. The checklist mentions 29 points, primarily to do with conversion optimization but also with search engine optimization topics. Download a PDF of the checklist with the button below or below that you can see the text of the checklist. Enjoy!

Landing Page Optimization Checklist

Landing Page Optimization Checklist:

Step 1: Planning
 Goal or goals of the landing page (LP) have been set by business sponsor
 Keyword research has been conducted to identify terms the audience uses most

Step 2: Content and Copy
 Duplicate content has been checked for. (Do a Google site search “site:yoursite.com ” and if a page on that topic already exists, consider using it instead of creating a new page.)
 Copy has clear and compelling value proposition and is aligned with goals
 Copy is concise and to the point, but detailed enough to help users make their decision
 Copy focuses on benefits to end-user rather than features of the product
 Important keywords are placed in prominent locations (headlines, titles, bolded, front-loaded)
 Links are descriptive of where they take the user (e.g. no “click here” or “read more”)
 Link text users click to come to the page match the LP headline (for our emails and website pages)

Step 3: Layout and Design
 LP has one, primary call to action (CTA) which is easily recognizable and above the fold
 The page is free from clutter, distractions, or undue cognitive load on end-user
 Images are relevant and add value (not just pretty and take up space)
 Brand guidelines have been followed for layout, fonts, graphics, tone, etc.
 Design and tone are consistent across all marketing channels (email, LP, fliers, post cards, etc.)
 All links, especially the primary and secondary CTAs, appear to be clickable
 The page, including copy and layout, are approved by sponsoring department, brand, and legal

Step 4: Technical Considerations when Building LP
 Page title matches H1 headline and is unique on website (Do a Google site search to verify)
 Meta description uses keywords, has compelling call to action, and is less than 160 characters
 CTAs are tracked as success events in your web analytics program
 Images use descriptive alt-text and title
 Image file names are optimized and human readable (screw-driver.jpg rather than 123xyz.jpg)
 Social media meta tags are populated for title, image, and description
 URL uses dashes “-“ rather than underscores “_” to separate words
 URL matches page title (e.g. if title = “Screw Driver” the URL should be “/screw-driver”).
 When the page is taken down, a 301 redirect to a relevant page is put in its place

Optional: Additional Search Engine Optimization
If the page is a short-term promotional page, these SEO elements are not required but still good to do.
 LP is optimized around a single, high-value keyword or phrase (i.e. the target keyword is used in the title, headline, URL, main body copy, and meta description)
 Keyword synonyms are used in the copy to make language more natural and varied
 LP has healthy amount of text (at least 100 words, preferably 500 or more) to give search engines an opportunity to understand what the topic of the page is
 High value keywords on page are linked to other optimized SEO landing pages, if they exist

Landing Page Conversion Optimization

Note: This article was originally written in 2010 and published on a different website I was running at the time.

Today’s post will discuss some of the principles of landing page optimization. Particularly, I’d like to talk about optimizing landing pages for conversion as opposed to optimizing for search engines, though those two disciplines have increasingly merged over the years as discussed in When Search Meets Web Usability. The quotes below are take from Anna Jacobson’s article in the MarketingExperiments Blog called Overcoming friction and anxiety: Suitable optimization suggestions for Men’s Wearhouse.

What is a Landing Page?

If you search the internet, you’ll find a variety of definitions of a landing page from very specific ones (like “a lead capture page”) to very general ones (like “any page a visitor lands on”). I personally prefer the more general definition with the caveat that a landing page is an entry point to your site and has a purpose to convert you, or entice you to take further action on the site. Landing pages are often arrived at in response to clicking an online advertisement, a link from a social media site, an email campaign, a search result, or a pay per click (PPC) campaign. Landing pages enhance the effectiveness of these off-site marketing channels be providing visitors with addition details (sales copy, videos, information, etc.), and provides your company with a better chance to win over those visitors.

Principles of Landing Page Conversion

Below is a formula published by Daniel Burstein of MarketingExperiments about the factors that lead to (or prevent) landing page conversion. A conversion, in this sense, refers to converting browsers into buyers, or in the case of media sites or non-commercial enterprises, getting people to take any key action. The “C” in the formula is for “conversion,” and the rest of the factors are labeled and explained below.

landing page conversion equation

Now don’t be overwhelmed is you are not a mathematician. This is not a formula to be numerically solved. The presentation as a formula and the numbers are there to help you understand how all the pieces fit together and to help you see the weight and importance of different factors. As you can see, if customers (site visitors) are properly Motivated and see the Value of the offer, it will overcome the Friction and Anxiety about taking the action (to buy something or perform another desired outcome). The friction and anxiety must be overcome by value, motivation and incentives communicated clearly on the landing page. If it helps, instead of thinking of it as a math formula, Dave Chaffey of Smart Insights points out that you can think of landing page conversion probabilities as a scale where the positive has to outweigh the negative, as shown in the image below.

landing page conversion scales weight

To help understand the equation, or the scale, whichever model you prefer, below I explain each of the factors in a little more detail.

Motivation

A landing page (including your home page) “must connect to the customer’s demand or need for a product. If they clicked on your ad, something in the ad motivated them to do so. To continue reaching that motivation, the landing page must immediately connect with your natural [or paid] search ad. The best place to do this is with a headline. Without a headline that connects with the channel, the visitor may initially question if they are in right place.”

Value Proposition

“Your value proposition communicates the unique value you have to offer your ideal prospect.” “You will also want to convey your unmatched quality.” Do not “relying on the visitor to do all the work, to search for this essential part of your value proposition.” Make sure the value is clearly communicated, not “buried on your site and you make visitors dig for it.”

Incentive

“An incentive’s function is to stimulate a desired action by your prospect.” With the Men’s Wearhouse, it’s a Buy One Get One Free offer. With you’re a religious website, the incentive might be to learn more about Jesus Christ.

Friction

“In order to identify sources of friction, we need to look for any element that may make it more difficult for a visitor to buy.” “And we cannot just identify sources of friction by looking at the page. We have to analyze how a visitor will experience the page, because friction is psychological, existing in the mind of the visitor.” “When someone lands on the page, they shouldn’t have to think about where to click. It should come naturally and instantly.”

Anxiety

As marketers, there are generally actions you can take on landing pages to help mitigate the anxiety of the end users. “Anxiety is associated with a concern about something, and [for e-commerce sites] is usually located in the payment process.” For Men’s Wearhouse, a money-back guarantee can make the difference in overcoming this anxiety. “When a customer is aware that any purchase is essentially ‘risk free,’ then it makes the final click on the purchase button so much easier.”

 

Menu Link Standards and Checklist

Menu Link Standards and ChecklistIn my work as a digital marketing analyst for Hilti, the subject of the website’s main menu comes up often. My colleagues often want to know how effective the various links in the menu are in driving traffic to the pages they care about. And the requests to put new content in the menus can be numerous at times. A recent request to add some items to the main navigation got me thinking about best practices and standards our company should have regarding the links in the menu. Such a checklist of standards could help us avoid some of the political battles we all face regarding inter-departmental competition for space in the website’s menu.

So I went back and reviewed much of the material I’ve collected over the years regarding menu purposes and principles, as well as my library of resources on information architecture (IA). What I came up with was this following checklist of ten items to consider when adding new links to the main menu of your website.

Download Menu Link Standards and Checklist

The checklist has both brief descriptions of things to check for and more details citations of why those things are important. You’ll notice that all my citations come from the Nielsen Norman Group (NNG). This is because a few years ago I took a course about information architecture for websites as part of my UX certification program from the NNG. During this course, we discussed the main purposes of website menus, the primary one being to help visitors find what they are looking for. On the internet, competitor websites are also just one click away. Therefore, it is important to help visitors find what they are looking for quickly to keep them on the site and engaged with us.

Good menus, says Jakob Nielsen, “improve the navigability of your site [and] by helping users find more, they’ll help you sell more” (see Mega Menus Work Well for Site Navigation). I believe if you and your company strive to follow the guidelines in this document you will achieve just that–users will be able to more easily find your content that they are looking for and your conversions rates will go up.

The following guidelines should help your site, whether your information architecture is the result of research and testing, or if your menu has a less than optimal IA that you inherited and has more influence by company politics than usability best practices. And while I think the checklist is pretty good, that’s not to say it can’t be improved. If you have any suggested edits or additions, please let me know. Thanks.

Here’s the Checklist:

Standard Details Citations
□ Link is truly necessary in menu Too many links in the menu can cause clutter, make things harder to find, and ultimately do more harm than good. Rather than cramming everything into the menu, “Instead, make each top-level menu choice clickable, leading to a regular Web page where you present all dropdown options in plain, fully accessible HTML.” https://www.nngroup.com/articles/mega-menus-work-well/

 

□ Link goes to content that is important to end users The menu should reflect content most desired by end-users rather than company internal initiatives. Exceptions may occur but should be rare. “To engage users, website copy must speak to readers and not at them. …Users want to know what the product or service will do for them. …On the web, users are task oriented. They are often looking to answer a question, solve a problem, or find information.”

https://www.nngroup.com/articles/user-centric-language/

□ Link is at highest logical place in information architecture A flat shallow menu hierarchy is preferable to deep and narrow one. “Content is more discoverable when it’s not buried under multiple intervening layers. All other things being equal, deep hierarchies are more difficult to use.”

https://www.nngroup.com/articles/flat-vs-deep-hierarchy/

□ Link is placed where users are most likely to look for it Think like an end user hunting for information. Where would they look first, second, and so forth? “Information scent refers to the extent to which users can predict what they will find if they pursue a certain path through a website.” https://www.nngroup.com/articles/wrong-information-scent-costs-sales/
□ Link text uses words familiar to our audience Avoid using company-specific jargon. Titles of menu links should be short, descriptive, and intuitive for the average users. “Ideally, jargon and branded terms that aren’t universally understood should be used only within the content pages, where users have context clues to help them understand what the unfamiliar terms mean. Findability is maximized by old, well-known words instead of new, made-up words.”

https://www.nngroup.com/articles/fixing-bad-intranet-navigation/

□ Link text incorporates high-value SEO keywords. Menu links are among the most crawled by search engines, and their SEO value is high. Do keyword research to find effective terms. “There are many elements to search engine optimization, but SEO guideline #1 is our old friend, ‘speak the user’s language.’ Or, more precisely, when you write, use keywords that match users’ search queries.”

https://www.nngroup.com/articles/web-writing-use-search-keywords/

□ Link text leads with high-value keywords The highest value keywords should be front-loaded in the menu’s hyperlinked text. “Start subheads, paragraphs, and bullet points with information-carrying words that users will notice. …They’ll read the third word on a line much less often than the first two words.” https://www.nngroup.com/articles/f-shaped-pattern-reading-web-content/
□ Link text accurately describes the destination page Users should easily understand what every link leads to and not be disappointed when they get there. “Any broken promise, large or small, chips away at trust and credibility. The words in a link label make a strong suggestion about the page that is being linked to. The destination page should fulfill what the anchor text promises.” https://www.nngroup.com/articles/link-promise/
□ Link text and URL is unique on menu Each link in menu should be unique, both in URL destination and the link text should clearly differentiate itself from other options. “Unclear naming is one of the biggest and most important projects to tackle when it comes to [information architecture]. Each navigation category must be descriptive, specific, and mutually exclusive so that users can pick where to navigate without hesitation.”

https://www.nngroup.com/articles/intranet-information-architecture-ia/

□ Order of links is as meaningful as possible Menu items should only be in alphabetical order if there is no better way to organize. “Consider: Is there another organizing principle that would be more meaningful? …Usually, there’s another way to organize content that is better than alphabetical organization.”

https://www.nngroup.com/articles/ia-questions-navigation-menus/

Writing Headlines for the Web

Note: This article was originally written in December 2010 and published on a different website I was running at the time.

writing headlines for the webWhen writing headlines for the Web, copywriters must take everything they have learned about traditional print headlines, and add to that the need to optimize for search and make them usable for Web audiences.  Striking the proper balance between traditional headline strategies, search optimization, and web usability needs will help improve the likelihood that articles will be found, headlines will be read, and articles will be enjoyed by the reading public.

Traditional Headlines

The headline is the first impression made on a prospective reader, so it better be a good impression to keep them reading. The importance of taking the time and effort to write good headlines cannot be overstated, and some say that nothing distinguishes a professional author from an amateur so quickly as the quality of the headlines.

When writing headlines or titles to articles there is a lot to consider.  Well-written headlines must distill the essence of the story, they should grab the readers get attention and lead the reader into the rest of the story.  Without a headline or title that converts a browser into a reader, the rest of the words in the article may as well not even exist.

Search Optimized Headlines

While authors and journalist have traditionally spent a lot of time crafting the perfect headline, if you are writing for the Web, there is even more to consider. In crafting traditional headlines, you can assume that potential readers have already found the article; they have the newspaper or magazine already in hand.  But on the Web, there is a crucial prior step that relies heavily on the headline content: making sure the article gets found. If the article can’t be found by search engines, and by the target readers query on a search engine, then the article may never be found, much less be read by the target audience.

SEOmoz, a leading search engine marketing consultancy firm, ranks the page title as one of the top elements in search engine ranking factors that will boost your article’s findability.  Therefore, the words in the title of your article will have a greater impact than any other on whether or not that article is found by search engines, and consequently, found by the majority of Web surfers who begin their Internet experience at a search engine.

So what does a search optimized headline look like? It is simply one that uses words that people use: words that people search for and scan for. So be sure to do your keyword research to find out what those words and phrases are. And of course, remember to consider information scent.

Usable Headlines

Frequently, search optimized headlines are naturally usable, but not always. With short attention spans and the competition being just one click away, Web headlines must also follow usability guidelines.  Jakob Nielsen, renown Web usability expert, gives the following guidelines for writing web headlines:

  • Keep headlines short because people don’t read much online.
  • Make headlines rich in information scent, clearly summarizing the article.
  • Front-load headlines with the most important keywords, because users often scan only the beginning of headlines.
  • Make headlines understandable out of context, because headlines often appear without articles, as in search engine results.
  • Create headlines that are predictable, so users know whether they’ll like the full article before they click it. (People don’t return to sites that promise more than they deliver.)

When Search Meets Web Usability

Note: This article was originally written in August 2010 and published on a different website I was running at the time.

When Search Meets Web Usability is a great little book by Shari Thurow and Nick Musica about how to help users find what they are looking for on your website. One of the first things the authors do is to establish that their view that traditional search engine optimization (SEO) should go beyond optimizing content for search engines, and even beyond optimizing content for search engine users. In the book, they talk about search usability, the combination of SEO and web usability, and how it means optimizing the entire experience of finding what you are looking for on the web, regardless of how you search.when search meets web usability

“On the web, it is easy to see why the word search is associated with search engines only…Billions of searches are performed on Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft Live every month. Millions of websites have a site search engine. Therefore, considering the tremendous use of web and site searches, millions of people associate online searching with search engines.”

“However, people do not use only the commercial web search engines to look for content on the web. People might go to a specific web page after they remember a reference from newspaper, billboard, television show, radio program, or even word of mouth…In addition, people might look for web content by clicking a link from an email, text message, or an online advertisement. They also locate web content by clicking links from one site to another, commonly known as surfing or browsing the web…When searching these other ways, we still “search.”

“On the web, search usability refers to how easily users can locate and discover content on a site via retrieval (searching/querying) and navigation (browsing).” When Search Meets Web Usability, pages 2 –3.

The book goes on to talk about information scent in great detail and many other search usability topics. Here are some of my favorites quotes from the book:

Understanding Audience Needs Up Front: “If searchers’ needs and abilities were not considered when determining the requirements, design, and programming of a website, then the site is likely to require more changes and enhancements. Result? Businesses must allocate more staff and/or more staff time to a website to fix problems that should have been addressed before the site was launched.” p. 14

Large Flash Animations and Videos Can Be Distractions: When users are on transactional searches, “don’t delay, diminish, distract from, or hide the scent of information by initiating an action” (p. 70) such as playing a video or displaying a Flash animation. “Many Flash sites appear to be misleading links in search listings because searchers do not see keywords in the search listing also appearing on the landing page.” p. 80

Searching Does Not End When a SERP Result is Clicked: “Searching does not end after a person clicks a link from a search engine results page (SERP) to a website.” At that point, “they have two choices: They can either stay on your site, or they can abandon it.” p 71-72. Much of that decision rests on the information scent on the landing page.

Place Keywords and Calls to Action Prominently: “Recent studies show that users only read about 20 percent of the words on a web page. Therefore…important keywords and calls to action need to be featured prominently (above the fold) on web pages.” p. 72

Help Visitors Get Oriented: “The presence of easily scanned you are here cues makes users feel your site is trustworthy and credible.” p. 81 “Websites that facilitate scanning and orienting help searchers reach their goals more quickly and efficiently; increasing user confidence, trust, and credibility; and can help sites achieve and maintain top search engine positions.” p. 85

Search Usability Reduces Costs: “The more a call center or customer’s support is resolved online the less need there is to staff a call center or customer service department. That could mean significant savings for a company’s bottom line. Search usability efforts can help control operational expenses by reducing the number of phone calls that customer service receives.” p. 98

Effective Landing Page Designs: “Everything cannot be the most important thing on a web page. Home pages are usually the biggest casualty of the ‘everything is important’ disease…By making everything look equally important, the message you are sending to users is that nothing is important…Additionally, the resulting web page often looks cluttered, which can irritate and confuse site visitors.” p. 110

Write with the Words People Use: Web “copywriters should have access to the results of keyword research to understand what words and phrases users use in  their queries…and scanning, foraging, and browsing on your website. If possible, web copywriters should observe usability tests, talk with focus groups, and have access to other market research noting the words users use to describe products and tasks.” p. 116

Search Usability Impact on your Brand: “The more users are forced to muddle through your website not finding what they are looking for, the more your website communicates a negative brand experience.” p. 117

High Quality of Search Engine Traffic: “Traffic from the commercial web search engines is user initiated, pre-qualified, and task-based. Therefore, [these] users…should be more interested in your content than users who landed on your website by clicking links out of curiosity.” p. 121

Importance of Keyword Research: “Web usability professionals should familiarize themselves with the paid and free keyword research tools.” Through these, “you’ll see the most popular keywords users use to query, keywords usage trends, and variations of keyword phrases users favor.” p. 125

Understand Users Before You Build: “If you don’t take the time to understand your users, you can expect they will abandon your site and go to your competitors’. As a result, a good portion of your website maintenance will go to correcting your lack of user understanding.” p. 126

Focus Groups Are Not Usability Test: “Focus group participants may tell you that they want specific information and functionality on your website, but you really don’t know if that’s true until you usability test…People say one thing, but do another. Therefore, do usability testing if you want to know how users will use your site.” p. 131

Avoiding Unnecessary Features: “Features are only cool if users think they’re cool. Users may find features annoying and distracting. Avoid worshipping the cool. Focus on the useful and relevant.” p. 136

Don’t Start Construction without a Blueprint: “One of the biggest and most common mistakes made when building websites is when graphic designers go straight to [a] graphics program and start designing. This is like a construction company starting to construct a building without a blueprint…Bad information architecture will cripple your [website].” p. 137

Look and Feel are Easy to Change, Information Architecture Is Not: “Look and feel, and the emotions evoked from images, are very important, but those shouldn’t be pursued at the expense of the website information architecture. More thought and discussion is typically put into a photograph that can be easily swapped out than the backbone of the site—the information architecture. This needs to change if search usability is to succeed.” p. 138

Insight by Watching Someone Use Your Site: “Watching a user freely explore your website will open your eyes to stumbling blocks that you may have never considered otherwise.” p. 160

Good Web Sites Require User Feedback: “There are plenty of software applications and tutorials online that will help you technically put together a website. This explains why there are so many mediocre websites. You need to interact with people similar to your users if you want to create a good website.” p. 164

Ignore Users and They’ll Go Away: “You can be apathetic and ignore your users until they go away, or you can be empathetic and help your users, and they will eventually make your site a success.” p. 166

How to Vote: Gospel Principles for Choosing Political Candidates

In anticipation of the upcoming presidential election in the United States, I have asked many people why they support their candidate of choice. I was curious how my own decision making process aligned, or not, with other people’s. Reasons varied, of course, but generally focused around job qualifications and policy stances. Very few people, thought, cited principles, their own or the candidates, when telling be about their decision making process on who to vote for.

The primary and overriding character trait I am looking for from a political official is honesty and integrity. I don’t care how smart, how politically savvy, how well spoken, and how talented an individual is, if I cannot trust that they’ll always act with integrity, then I don’t want them in a leadership position. I would gladly vote for a less qualified, less capable candidate who is honest over a more qualified and capable candidate that I cannot trust.

principles, not people, causes, not candidates, maxwellBut those are my opinions, and this line of thought got me thinking about the eternal gospel principles behind the decision of who to vote for. And I wondered what The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches regarding how to vote, as the Church itself remains politically neutral and will not tell you who to vote for, candidates or political parties. As Elder Neal A. Maxwell, said:

“Discipleship includes good citizenship. In this connection, if you are a careful student of the statements of the modern prophets, you will have noticed that with rare exceptions—especially when the First Presidency has spoken out—the concerns expressed have been over moral issues, not issues between political parties. The declarations are about principles, not people; and causes, not candidates” (A More Determined Discipleship, 10 October 1978).

Here’s what I found from the Church on how to vote, or as I’m calling it, gospel principles for choosing political candidates.

What the Scriptures Say about Who to Vote For

honest men should be sought“And that law of the land which is constitutional, supporting that principle of freedom in maintaining rights and privileges, belongs to all mankind, and is justifiable before me. Therefore, I, the Lord, justify you, and your brethren of my church, in befriending that law which is the constitutional law of the land; And as pertaining to law of man, whatsoever is more or less than this, cometh of evil. I, the Lord God, make you free, therefore ye are free indeed; and the law also maketh you free. Nevertheless, when the wicked rule the people mourn. Wherefore, honest men and wise men should be sought for diligently, and good men and wise men ye should observe to uphold; otherwise whatsoever is less than these cometh of evil” (D&C 98:5-10).

What Modern Prophets Say about How to Vote

upright and good and aspirational leaders - ChristoffersonWhen I was listening to LDS General Conference in April of this year, I was struck by something Elder D. Todd Christofferson said about his father, a politician. I wonder if he was subtlety giving us criteria by which we should select candidates to vote for. He said his father, a city councilman, was “upright and good and an aspirational example.” Here’s the full quote in context:

“I myself was blessed with an exemplary father. I recall that when I was a boy of about 12, my father became a candidate for the city council in our rather small community. He did not mount an extensive election campaign—all I remember was that Dad had my brothers and me distribute copies of a flyer door to door, urging people to vote for Paul Christofferson. There were a number of adults that I handed a flyer to who remarked that Paul was a good and honest man and that they would have no problem voting for him. My young boy heart swelled with pride in my father. It gave me confidence and a desire to follow in his footsteps. He was not perfect—no one is—but he was upright and good and an aspirational example for a son” (from his talk entitled Fathers).

John Taylor, the third President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said this in 1855: “We believe that all legislative assemblies should confine themselves to constitutional principles; and that all such laws should be implicitly obeyed by every American . . . .We believe that legislators ought to be chosen on account of their intelligence, honor, integrity, and virtue, and not because they belong to some particular party clique. We believe that the high party strife, logrolling, wirepulling, and political juggling, and spoliation, are a disgrace to any politician, that they are beneath the dignity of an American, and disgraceful and humiliating, alike to the people and statesmen of this great republic” (John Taylor, 1855, Gospel Kingdom, p. 310). This quote was found on TheMoralLiberal.com, among other online sources.

Another guideline was given by President David O. McKay in his October 1962 General Conference talk entitled, The Gospel and the Individual:

“In these days of uncertainty and unrest, liberty-loving people’s greatest responsibility and paramount duty is to preserve and proclaim the freedom of the individual, his relationship to Deity, and the necessity of obedience to the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Only thus will mankind find peace and happiness. We find ourselves now immersed in a great political campaign in America for the purpose of selecting candidates for office in local, state, and national positions. We urge you as citizens to participate in this great democratic process in accordance with your honest political convictions. However, above all else, strive to support good and conscientious candidates of either party who are aware of the great dangers inherent in communism, and who are truly dedicated to the Constitution in the tradition of our rounding fathers. They should also pledge their sincere fealty to our way of liberty—a liberty which aims at the preservation of both personal and property rights. Study the issues, analyze the candidates on these grounds, and then exercise your franchise as free men and women. Never be found guilty of exchanging your birthright for a mess of pottage (Gen. 25:30-34)!”

Civic Standards for the Faithful Saints

As I have studied this subject, I found a great talk by Ezra Taft Benson from the April 1972 General Conference called Civic Standards for the Faithful Saints. In it, he said, “The First Presidency …gave us the guideline a few years ago of supporting political candidates ‘who are truly dedicated to the Constitution in the tradition of our Founding Fathers.’” He went on to list what he called the “four great civic standards for the faithful Saints.” They are:

  1. “First, the Constitution ordained by God through wise men.”
  2. “Second, the scriptures, particularly the Book of Mormon.”
  3. “Third, the inspired counsel of the prophets, especially the living president.”
  4. “Fourth, the guidance of the Holy Spirit.”

Stand Up for Freedom No Matter What the Cost

Finally, here is another quote I really like from Ezra Taft Benson. I put it last because I’m not certain of the accuracy of the source. I only found it one a single website called inspiredconstitution.org. According to the site, this is a statement from Ezra Taft Benson as quoted by Jerreld L. Newquist in his book, Prophets, Principles and National Survival.

“There are some people who hesitate to get into this fight for freedom because it’s controversial, or they’re not sure if we’re going to win. These people have two blind spots. First, they fail to realize that life’s decisions should be based on principles—not on Gallup polls. There were men at Valley Forge who weren’t sure how the Revolution would end, but they were in a much better position to save their own souls and their country than those timid men whose major concern was deciding which side was going to win, or how to avoid controversy. After all, the basic purpose of life is to prove ourselves—not to be with the majority when it’s wrong. We must discharge responsibilities not only to our church, home and profession, but also to our country. Otherwise, we do not merit the full blessings of a kind Providence. There are people tonight all over the world who in their own courageous and sometimes quiet way are working for freedom. In many cases we will never know until the next life all they sacrificed for liberty. These patriots are receiving heaven’s applause for the role they are playing, and in the long run that applause will be louder and longer than any they could receive in this world.

This leads me to the second blind spot of those who hesitate to get into the fight. And that is their failure to realize that we will win in the long run, and for keeps, and that they pass up great blessings by not getting into the battle now when the odds are against us and the rewards are greatest. The only questions, before the final victory, are, first, “What stand will each of us take in this struggle?”; and second, “How much tragedy can be avoided by doing something now?” Time is on the side of truth—and truth is eternal. Those who are fighting against freedom may feel confident now, but they are short-sighted. This is still God’s world. The forces of evil, working through some mortals, have made a mess of a good part of it. But, it is still God’s world. In due time when each of us has had a chance to prove ourselves—including whether or not we are going to stand up for freedom—then God will interject himself and the final and eternal victory shall be for free agency. And then shall those people on the sidelines, and those who took the wrong but temporarily popular course, lament their decisions. To the patriots I say this: Take that long eternal look. Stand up for freedom, no matter what the cost. It can save your soul—and maybe your country. (Ezra Taft Benson, 9/23/63)”

Conclusion

I want to help save the country by casting my vote for someone who will strengthen our nation. But as President Benson said, I am most concerned about the salvation of my soul and that can only be done by staying on the Lord’s side and following his counsel as received through His Spirit, the scriptures, and the modern prophets. That counsel tells me that I should not select candidates for political office based on party affiliation or the way the polls tell me other people are voting. Therefore,  I will cast my vote based on principles, mine and the candidates. I will seek out and vote for the candidate who, in my evaluation, has demonstrated wisdom and competence, who loves freedom and goodness, and who, most importantly, has honesty and integrity.

The Constitution – A Heavenly Banner

satan restricts our agency through governmentThe Constitution – A Heavenly Banner is a talk that President Ezra Taft Benson gave at BYU on September 16, 1986. Though the audience was the university staff and students, Jeffrey R. Holland said the message was directed to all members of the Church. I recently re-read the talk and was impressed with what he said. The concerns he addressed had clearly been on his mind for some time. And if his imploring to return to Constitutional principles was that urgent and important in 1986, oh how important it is for us today!

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the talk:

“The central issue in the premortal council was: Shall the children of God have untrammeled agency to choose the course they should follow, whether good or evil, or shall they be coerced and forced to be obedient? Christ and all who followed him stood for the former proposition—freedom of choice; Satan stood for the latter—coercion and force. The war that began in heaven over this issue is not yet over. The conflict continues on the battlefield of mortality. And one of Lucifer’s primary strategies has been to restrict our agency through the power of earthly governments.”

governments should have only limited powers

“Basic to our understanding of the Constitution is that governments should have only limited powers. government cannot claim the power to redistribute moneyThe important thing to keep in mind is that the people who have created their government can give to that government only such powers as they, themselves, have in the first place.”

“By deriving its just powers from the governed, government becomes primarily a mechanism for defense against bodily harm, theft, and involuntary servitude. It cannot claim the power to redistribute money or property nor to force reluctant citizens to perform acts of charity against their will. Government is created by the people. No individual possesses the power to take another’s wealth or to force others to do good, so no government has the right to do such things either. The creature cannot exceed the creator.”

“The most important single function of government is to secure the rights and freedoms of individual citizens.”constitution designed to limit government

“The powers the people granted to the three branches of government were specifically limited. The Founding Fathers well understood human nature and its tendency to exercise unrighteous dominion when given authority. A constitution was therefore designed to limit government to certain enumerated functions, beyond which was tyranny.”

“At this bicentennial celebration we must, with sadness, say that we have not been wise in keeping the trust of our Founding Fathers. For the past two centuries, those who do not prize freedom have chipped away at every major clause of our Constitution until today we face a crisis of great dimensions.”

chipped away at our Constitution“We must be righteous and moral. We must live the gospel principles—all of them. We have no right to expect a higher degree of morality from those who represent us than what we ourselves are. To live a higher law means we will not seek to receive what we have not earned by our own labor. It means we will remember that government owes us nothing. It means we will keep the laws of the land. It means we will look to God as our Lawgiver and the source of our liberty.”