The Test of Right and Wrong – Albert E. Bowen

albert e bowenCalled Unto Liberty, 20th Century Sermons, Albert E. Bowen

Are there not, in reality, underlying, universal principles with reference to which all issues must be resolved whether the society be simple or complex in its mechanical organization? It seems to me we could relieve ourselves of most of the bewilderment which so unsettles and distracts us by subjecting each situation to the simple test of right and wrong. Right and wrong as moral principles do not change. They are applicable and reliable determinants whether the situations with which we deal are simple or complicated. There is always a right and a wrong to every question which requires our solution . . . .

We cannot well lay claim to being a grown-up, mature, civilized people until we have come to the point where morality is the determinant, and we ask simply what is, in good conscience, right. The conclusion seems inescapable that the confusion and distraction and conflicts and antagonisms and uncertainties and bewilderment which plague the world today present mankind with what is at bottom a purely moral issue—the issue between right and wrong. That, then, should be the final test of the propriety of all courses of action.

But there are difficulties thrown in the way of getting that simple test adopted. One is that there is current in the world today a school of thought which assert that there is no such thing as universal principles of right as opposed to wrong. They say that for the individual, growth is a continuing “ongoing process” without direction. That is, that we are continually changing, growing but not toward any ultimate purpose. There are accordingly no fixed principles by reference to which we may determine what we ought to do. If confronted with a situation, all we can do is to experiment—try out the course we want to take, and if it works out to the advantage of the experimenter, then for him it is right. Each one finds out for himself according to his own interest. Of course this must inevitably result in confusion, and ultimate chaos.

This is a deadly paralyzing notion to plant in the minds of people and particularly the youthful and immature. It strikes down belief that man is a moral being with a purpose and a destiny and commensurate responsibilities. It releases one who accepts it from all restraint of conscience. It provides him with an allegedly scientific but basely false assurance that he is in no wise responsible for his actions however vile they may be since they are after all but in the course of nature. Let such a notion as that gain general currency and you have dealt a devastating blow to all organized society. A free government could no longer exist, for its perpetuity must depend upon the moral integrity of its citizens. Only an absolute, iron-bound despotism could deal with a creation like that.

. . . When foundation principles are discarded, then shifting, vagrant, opportunistic substitutes for principles take control and precisely because they are opportunistic they must shift with the vagaries of changing popular moods. Stability—a steady march forward toward a fixed goal—no longer is found.

It is for us to stand by the tried and proved principles of religion and the tried and proved governmental principles which have so blessed our land.

Source: Albert E. Bowen (1875-1953). Excerpt from his address at the October 1944 General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Albert E. Bowen was a member of the Church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles from 1937 until his death in 1953.

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