Latter-day Saints must be advocates for religious freedom and defend its rightful place in the public square, said Elder Quentin L. Cook during the annual Stanford University Convocation on Oct. 27.
“Faith and moral values must not be separated from knowledge,” said Elder Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. “The intersection of faith and knowledge is where both wisdom and mercy reside and where great gifts from heaven are most often bestowed.”
Speaking at the Stanford Memorial Church in California, Elder Cook, a Stanford Law alumnus, stressed the “essential role of faith and moral values in the quest for knowledge.”
Elder Cook applauded a recent essay where Lord Jonathan Sacks, the former chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Commonwealth, acknowledged that "science, technology, the free market and the liberal democratic state have enabled society to reach unprecedented achievements in knowledge, freedom, life expectancy and affluence. They are among the greatest achievements of human civilization and are to be defended and cherished.”
But, Elder Cook emphasized that Lord Sacks then noted, "they do not answer the three questions that every reflective individual will ask at some time in his or her life: “Who am I? Why am I here? How then shall I live? The result is that the 21st century has left us with a maximum of choice and a minimum of meaning.”
Elder Cook said he is “deeply concerned that faith, accountability to God, and the religious impulse are so often seen as antithetical to serious academic pursuits. I am equally concerned that the foundations which have historically supported faith, accountability to God, and the religious impulse are increasingly being marginalized in a secular world and derided and even banished from the public square.”
Quoting New York Times columnist David Brooks, from one of his recent op-ed pieces titled “The Big University,” Elder Cook said: “Many American universities were founded as religious institutions, explicitly designed to cultivate their students’ spiritual and moral natures,” said Elder Cook, quoting Brooks. “But over the course of the 20th century they became officially or effectively secular.”
Elder Cook said he believes many institutions have lost their way. “They have abandoned the basic moral high ground that gives meaning to this life and has guided civilizations for centuries.”
But first, he said, society must acknowledge that the entire burden for training and teaching young adults is not the responsibility of academia, particularly in areas of moral values, faith, and accountability to God. “Many families and society as a whole have largely abdicated their responsibilities to assist the rising generation with the moral values that have been the foundation of civilization for the last several hundred years and in some cases even millennia.”
The teaching and training of the younger generation — the rising generation — is a primary responsibility of the family, he said.
“Part of this is acquiring good manners; part of this is gaining knowledge. It depends on transmitting the serious moral values required in any civilized society. These values include being grateful for the sacrifice and goodness of one’s forebears, being humble about what one does not know, and trusting in a higher power than one’s self. For Latter-day Saints it means having faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and His Atonement. It should be noted that for hundreds of years a combination of good books and teaching provided a clear path to achieve most of these objectives.”
Elder Cook said faith and knowledge require equal effort and commitment. “We cannot expect to have both light and truth at the center of our lives if all of our efforts are expended on entertainment, amassing wealth, sports, or other pastimes.”
Elder Cook said he is concerned “when I see young scholars deconstruct and discard foundations that have been blessed by heaven. Some view our history with a 21st-century lens and can only see the flaws of men while ignoring their own. They are willing to throw away grand and glorious principles and even essential doctrines.”
He said he is also concerned that the basic principles and morality the Savior taught are under serious attack in our generation.
“We not only follow Jesus Christ but also rely upon His grace and Atonement. Happiness in this life and in the life to come are interconnected by righteousness. The restored gospel gives us the blueprint of the plan of happiness.”
Noting that today society is at the threshold of new and exciting scientific and technological advancements, Elder Cook said knowledge has always been important.
“The pursuit of light and truth has never been easy. It was not meant to be easy. The quest for both faith and knowledge must be an eternal commitment. We must be at the forefront of both promulgating and defending light and truth.”
Elder Cook noted that "the technology developed in Silicon Valley has blessed the entire world," but said, “There is not an app that will replace basic morality.”
He praised Stanford's history and said he believed its co-founder, Jane Lathrop Stanford, would be very pleased that the university's law school is at the forefront of defending religious liberty. "The Stanford Religious Liberty Clinic, headed by Professor James A. Sonne," he added, "is helping to train and instill in the minds of young lawyers the importance of protecting those who feel accountable to God because of its overwhelming significance to the well-being of society."
Elder Cook also acknowledged the presence at the convocation of Bill Mumma, a devout Catholic and president and chairman of the Beckett Fund for Religious Liberty, and expressed appreciation for the guidance he has given as a major defender of religious freedom.
Elder Cook concluded, “It is my profound hope and prayer that this marvelous congregation can be a voice and a moral compass for both light and truth. I testify to you that it is essential for faith and moral values to be at the center of our quest for knowledge.”
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