The words in 2 Nephi 28:14 have led me to serious reflection: “they have all gone astray save it be a few, who are the humble followers of Christ; nevertheless, they are led, that in many instances they do err because they are taught by the precepts of men” (2 Nephi 28:14).
I am going to make the assumption that the “humble followers of Christ” include faithful members of the Church. Even these good people err “in many instances” because they are taught by the precepts of men. I have tried to be one of those humble followers of Christ, but I wonder if the world and its influences are so pervasive that I have made errors because I allow myself to be shaped by the influences of the world around me.
Mormon’s teachings in Moroni 7 suggest three ways in which we are placed in a position where we allow ourselves to be taught by the world and its inhabitants. We learn from the content of this chapter that we can be persuaded, invited, and enticed to either good or evil by the voices to which we give heed. I call these teachings the PIE principle (see Moroni 7:13-17). What do the constant parade of prime-time dramas and sit-coms on TV persuade us to believe? What do the actions of movie stars both in the movies and in their private lives invite us to do? What do the advertisements and magazine covers and modern literature that abound around us entice us to think?
It would be worth a great effort to identify the areas in which this happens—in which we allow the cultural conditions which surround us to persuade, invite, or entice us to be instructed by the precepts lf men. What errors do we make because we are mature human beings living in the twenty-first century? What happens to us as we watch eighteen hundred commercials a week, go to the movies, observe the billboards lining the highways, listen to music on the radio and other electronic devices, and observe a constant parade of modern fashions? And it is not enough for us to avoid the fringes of behavior and the attitudes and actions of those who are obviously enveloped in sin. Even the middle of the road may not be safe anymore.
Boyd K. Packer observed that
“The breach between the world and . . . the Church is wider in our day than ever in generations past. And the middle of the road runs through an entirely different valley now than it did a few years ago” (“Worthy Music, Worthy Thoughts,” Ensign, January 1974).
We must not be misled into thinking that a certain action is acceptable because there are people out there doing worse things. Even though our actions are nothing like the actions of millions of others, they may still fall within the realm of true transgressions. The distance we are from the truth is not measured from the homes of our friends or the standards on the streets, but from the Lord. Are we being taught by the scriptures and the Spirit, or by the precepts of men?
“Like the prodigal son, we too can go to “a far country,” which may be no further away than a vile rock concert. The distance to “a far country” is not to be measured by miles but by how far our hearts and minds are from Jesus! (see Mosiah 5:13). Fidelity, not geography, really determines the distance!” (Neal A. Maxwell, Conference Report, October2000),
The issue is our devotion to the world. We may, if we are not perceptive, find that we are like the Israelites in the days of Samuel, who wanted to be “like all the nations” (1 Samuel 8:3). Do our media selections and swimming suits and fashions and use of spare time reflect our affection for the world or our love for the Lord? Are we drawing closer to the patterns of the people around us, or are we moving away? Elder George Q. Cannon said:
“If the breach is daily widening between ourselves and the world . . . we may be assured that our progress is certain, however slow. On the opposite hand, if our feelings and affections, our appetites and desires, are in unison with the world around us and freely fraternize with them . . . we should do well to examine ourselves. Individuals in such a condition might possess a nominal position in the Church but would be lacking the life of the work, and, like the foolish virgins who slumbered while the bridegroom tarried (Matt. 25:5), they would be unprepared for his coming” (Millennial Star, Oct. 5, 1861 [Vol. 23], pp. 645-46).