Elder Holland: Religious freedom is the fabric of moral society

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Ari Davis
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland speaks at the devotional during Education Week on August 16. He emphasized the importance of religious principles and freedom in today’s society, and detailed how religion has shaped most of history (Ari Davis).

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles addressed religion as the loving tie of society that is under attack by the rise of secularism during his Education Week address on Tuesday, August 16.

Elder Holland opened the devotional with the etymology of religion that derives from the Latin word regilare, meaning to tie, with a literal meaning of “re-tie.” He compared the root syllable of ligare to the word ligature, when a doctor sews together a patient with a wound.

“So, for our purpose today, ‘religion’ is that which unites what was separated or holds together what might be torn apart, an obvious need for us, individually and collectively, given trials and tribulations we all experience here in mortality,” said Elder Holland.

Elder Holland recalled a statement by Elder Neal A. Maxwell in a BYU devotional he attended in 1978, in which Elder Maxwell foretold the increasing popularity of secularism.

“These secularists will use the carefully preserved; freedoms of Western civilization to shrink freedom as (they reject) the value; of our rich Judeo-Christian heritage,” said Elder Maxwell at the time.

According to Elder Holland, the talk Elder Maxwell gave 40 years ago is being fulfilled every day. Elder Holland noted that religious practices, religious expressions, and the very idea of religious belief itself is constantly under attack every day around the world.

Elder Holland also addressed the counterclaim of those who think they practice spirituality without the aid of religion.

“Yes, in more modern times individuals can certainly be ‘spiritual’ in isolation, but we don’t live in isolation: we live as families, friends, neighbors, and nations,” said Elder Holland in regard to the need for religion within spirituality.

Elder Holland noted that individuals who are complimented as being a “religious person” or someone who “lives their religion” often “try to be an influence for good, try to live to a higher level of morality than they might otherwise have done, and have tried to help hold the socio-political fabric of their community together.”

Ari Davis
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland blows a kiss to the crowd after giving a devotional address about religious freedom at BYU’s Education Week. (Ari Davis)

But as religion is replaced with mere spirituality or even secularism, there is an increasing danger that the moral fabric of society will wear thin, according to Elder Holland.

He said that respect for religious beliefs is being replaced with fixation on existential circumstances within the world.

Elder Holland said that secularism cannot answer the yearnings of the soul.  He quoted Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, who said that secularists ignore the fact that Homo sapiens are meaning-seeking people.

Modern technology provides personal freedom with virtually unlimited knowledge, but is limited in giving moral guidance, according to Elder Holland.

“It has been principally the world’s great faiths — religion, those ligatures to the Divine we have been speaking of — that do that, that speak to the collective good of society, offer us a code of conduct and moral compass for living, help us exult in profound human love and strengthen us from profound human loss,” he said.

Elder Holland spoke about the dangers of secularists who believe that religion has no function or role in society. They lead others to believe that religious beliefs, such as the age of the universe, can be disproven by science. They seek to form a serene world of rational non-believers, but then become nervous at the thought of death, according to Elder Holland.

He described how The New York Times columnist David Brooks hinted too mildly that without the “rich social fabric” of religious influences, people are left with uncertainty about who they really are.

“My point about ‘too mildly’ is that a rich social fabric . . . says absolutely nothing about the moral state of one’s soul, redemption from physical death, about overcoming spiritual alienation from God, the perpetuation of marriage and the family unit into eternity, and so forth.”

Elder Holland stressed how the ambiance of religion permeates Western culture, particularly through religiously-influenced literature, art, and music. He referred to several pieces of great literature he has studied throughout his lifetime and presented an audiovisual with paintings and music inspired by scripture.

After the presentation, Elder Holland shared his testimony of how religious faith is the most powerful and enduring force in history.

“Voices of religious faith have elevated our vision, deepened our human conversation, and strengthened both our personal and collective aspiration since time began,” he said.

He concluded the devotional with his apostolic witness of religion giving people an understanding of Heavenly Father’s love for his children.

“Beyond the social, political, and cultural contributions that I have been focusing on today, I testify that true religion is infinitely more than that — it is the only way to ‘peace in this world, and eternal life in the world to come,’ as the scripture phrases it,” said Elder Holland. “May our religious privileges be cherished, preserved, and lived, binding us to God and each other until that blessed millennial day comes.”

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