Sunday, February 28, 2010

Using The LDS Church's Second Article Of Faith To Rebut Gary Nuila's Advocacy Of Historical Apologies Published In The Utah People's Post

In this previous post, I focused the spotlight on an innovative and open-minded new journalistic website focusing on the Utah Valley, the Utah People's Post. I briefly referenced Gary Nuila's article entitled "U.S. Senate Candidate Mike Lee and American Apologies", and promised a rebuttal.

But first, let's highlight the portion of the article of concern:

...Please remind me what is the great wrong, evil, or weakness in apologizing in the first place. If you think there is such a wrong in this, then I must assume you either think the United States has committed no wrongs to other nations, or if it has, there is something wrong about apologizing. I personally cannot reconcile either of these with history or basic principles of morality.

If you think the United States has not committed wrongs on the world stage, specifically in Iran, Vietnam, Chile, Central American Nations, Iraq, Japan, and Guantanamo to name a few, then I refer you to Connor Boyack’s current column detailing the United States’ mistakes in these locations in the last century. If you still do not believe the United States has committed wrongs, I await your arguments in an opinion piece or comment.

If you think the United States should not apologize for past wrongs it has committed, I ask you on what principle of morality you base your opinion. Especially if you are LDS, Christian, or belong to any other noble religious or moral tradition, please show me a doctrinal or moral principle which suggests that it is ever acceptable to forgo apology and repentance for wrongdoing.

Let's look at Nuila's first question. Yes, the United States has made mistakes throughout its history. Nobody disputes that premise. But does that mean we have to go back now and apologize for each and every mistake? This depends upon whether or not we've sufficiently mitigated the effects of those mistakes. For example, there is no need for the United States to apologize to American blacks for slavery, because slavery was abolished in 1863, and the legacy of slavery was sufficiently mitigated not only by the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, but also by the Civil Rights Act of 1964. One can even suggest that we've gone too far in the other direction with the establishment of affirmative action and racial quotas; perhaps the Federal government should outlaw affirmative action and apologize to the white community for its effects.

Now let's look at Nuila's second question. The doctrinal and moral principle I suggest makes it acceptable to forgo apology for wrongdoing (forgoing repentance is never acceptable) is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Second Article of Faith, written thusly:

"We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam's transgression".

Obviously, the first and primary purpose of this Article of Faith is to establish the doctrinal foundation for our disavowal of the traditional doctrine of original sin. Instead of presenting the Fall of Man in the Garden of Eden as an unfortunate sin which unleashed misery upon the world, we present it as a carefully orchestrated event which unlocked the door of mortality for us all; without Adam's transgression, we would all still be cooling our heels up in heaven, impatiently awaiting our shot at mortality. Adam fell that men might be.

However, there is a secondary purpose to this Article of Faith. It also implies that we are not responsible for anyone's sins except our own. Of course, there are logical exceptions; parents are held somewhat responsible for the behavior of their kids, people with stewardships are held accountable for the actions of those who act in their name, and in paramilitary organizations, commanders and supervisors are held responsible for the actions of subordinates. But nowhere is it implied that nations are held responsible for sins, or that we can be held responsible for the sins of those who we never knew and with whom we had no opportunity to interact.

Consequently, although I might agree that a nation may owe an apology for a current sin, I see no reason why a nation should apologize for a historical sin, particularly if the effects of that sin have already been corrected by remuneration or any other form of mitigation. Furthermore, apologizing for historical sins might open the door for the descendants of the historical victims to claim undeserved reparations. It can create more problems than it solves.


Gerry said...

So was it wrong, inappropriate, or unnecessary for the government of Illinois to issue a formal apology to the LDS Church for the extermination order?

Deseret Dawg said...

It wasn't wrong or inappropriate, but it was clearly redundant, depending upon when the apology was issued. The apology would have been more meaningful if it had been issued in 1845, after the assassination of Joseph Smith.

In 1996, Missouri Governor Christopher Bond apologized to the LDS Church for Lilburn W. Boggs' Extermination Order, but that was so long ago, and Missourians had shown by their behavior towards us since that time that it was an anomaly, that Bond's apology was meaningless.

Do you think Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak should apologize to Israel because Egypt held them in slavery 3,000 years ago? Clearly, such a gesture would be redundant by now.

Doug Bayless said...


You say:

Consequently, although I might agree that a nation may owe an apology for a current sin, I see no reason why a nation should apologize for a historical sin, particularly if the effects of that sin have already been corrected by remuneration or any other form of mitigation. Furthermore, apologizing for historical sins might open the door for the descendants of the historical victims to claim undeserved reparations. It can create more problems than it solves.

I totally agree with all of that. Nevertheless, there are three things I'd like to point out:

(a) It is not true that "Nobody disputes" that "the United States has made mistakes throughout its history." Given the context of this discussion, political leaders like Romney have publicly decreed the basic infallability of the U.S. on nearly every question referenced in Connor's blog. They might grudgingly admit human slavery was wrong but that more distant mistake is not the type of action up for discussion. Indeed, it is not the point of discussion for precisely the reasons you conclude. So, I don't think it is a good example to bring up.

(b) More relevantly, most of these more recent debatable U.S. actions have *not* been mitigated or acknowledged which is precisely why we continue repeating those actions and *is* the reason why a proclamation against "apologies" like Romney's seems so morally reprehensible to many observers.

(c) Finally, I totally agree with idea that we should not be collectively punished for the actions of previously unenlightened political leaders. But current leaders -- like Romney or Obama -- are indeed in elected positions of collective representation when they comment on such history. They actually have the ability to engage in the types of acknowledgements, preventions, remunerations, and mitigations that you suggest. For a leader to say that is *never* an appropriate action is arrogant, immoral, and (frankly) counterproductive.

Gary Nuila said...

Deseret Dawg,

I saw some people linking to my site from yours and had to check it out. Thanks for your very nice mention both in this post and your previous.

One thing I wanted to make sure everyone realized is how much we want a variety of opinions on the site. My hope for the future of the site is for people to go to there and not be able to associate The Utah People's Post with any particular ideology or philosophy other than the principles in our values which we've tried to make as welcoming as possible. I'm surely going to give my opinions, but I want my opinions just to be from one voice among many, and I want these voices to have an equal stage as mine. We also want news and feature stories as well where people aren't trying to explicitly argue a point.

As for your commentary on my article, I agree with you that we as individuals are not accountable for the sins of other individuals. I do not feel any personal accountability for any of the past wrongs I list in my article.

I also agree with you that there should be significantly less concern for apologizing for things which happened many generations or even centuries ago with the participants on any of the sides long since deceased, and the effects from any wrongdoing being more difficultly tied to present circumstances.

But I do still think apologies from the United States Government are in order for more recent events which have been carried out by the United States Government. This is because when our government acts through any of its arms it is not just representing the individuals making its decisions or the individuals carrying out the decisions, it is representing the government as a whole, and in a very real sense our society. More than that, in many ways it is not just representing our society at the moment the government acts, it represents our society in a sort of timeless way. The things the United States government does today will effect the way that the past, present and future United States will be perceived and colored.

Perhaps most importantly, this is how the recipients of the government's actions will likely perceive the actions. If you lived in a foreign country and a tank drove into your village being driven by Army Captain Smith, I think you would see that tank as much more representing the United States than Captain Smith. The actions of Captain Smith and his tank will likely shape your perspective of the present United States, the past United States and the future.

Now let's take a contemporary example where I think an apology was clearly in order: the tragedies of Abu Ghraib prison. I don't think there's a single one of us who would not admit that there was gross mistreatment of the detainees there. I feel no personal accountability for the actions of the individual US soldiers who acted in atrocious ways in the prison, but I still feel our government should apologize openly for those atrocities, regardless of how far up the chain of command responsibility could be attributed.

At the very least an apology should be made to the victims, to their families and perhaps even their nations and religions. Why the nations and the religions? Because of how the nation's and religion's of the victims likely perceive such mistreatment of one of their own.

Apologies aren't just to make the wrongdoer right again, they are to help the victims and those associated to the victims to be right again as well. When we wrong others we invite them to wrong us in return by turning their hearts and sometimes even their arms to war against us—an invitation many usually accept. When we apologize we invite them to pacify their warring hearts and be right again as well.