A Bit 'o Random Musings on Politics, Religion, and Anything Else That Passes Through My Crazy Head

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

"Wonderful" Contention

I've been thinking about the contradiction between two verses, one of which I've heard a lot of while growing up Mormon, and one that I've never heard quoted.

In 3 Nephi, Christ teaches "For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another." (3 Ne 11:29)

While, when describing the political turmoil during the early reign of the judges (the Nephites' first experience with democracy), an unknown narrator* states "And it came to pass that the people assembled themselves together throughout all the land, every man according to his mind, whether it were for or against Amlici, in separate bodies, having much dispute and wonderful contentions one with another." (Alma 2:5, emphasis added)

Now, I don't want to contradict Christ. But I think what He's talking about is "contention for the sake of contention" (I'm familiar with this from having younger brothers). I think Christ was saying that creating arguments just to argue about something, or pick fault, is a bad thing. I think He doesn't mean we shouldn't fight evil. The key is in the second part of the verse, where he talks about the motivation behind the contention - it can't be in anger. I think a lot of political talk these days falls under the "anger" label (I'm looking at you, Hannity and Olberman).

How can contention be wonderful? We in America tend to be believers in a democracy that throws out bad ideas and embraces good ones through the power of argument. We believe that merely through the opposing arguments of our two main parties (complete with lunatic fringes on both sides) we can winnow down to something approaching a "golden mean" where we make the right decisions. Of a necessity, this involves disagreement. I guess part of me likes the idea of "wonderful" contention. I believe it's a healthy part of a democracy. That's what bothers me about places like Utah or Massachusetts, essentially people don't have to "contend" for their seat. They're able to coast, merely by labeling themselves by the prevailing political party.

I vote for some wonderful "contention" on the important issues facing us today. I don't think we have enough SERIOUS debate - so far it seems to me that Republicans are just reflexively against any changes proposed by Democrats and vice versa. So, call me "of the devil," but I think we need some wondrous arguments ;)

And please, let's not compare either side to Amlici (a bad guy) - rarely are issues as black and white as they were in Alma 2.

*Perhaps Alma, perhaps Moroni?


  1. When I try to harmonize those two verses, in addition to the "anger" differentiation (which is the most important difference), I usually say that a contention of ideas is wonderful, but contention of people is wrong (ie. stick to debating or contending the topic, don't resort to Ad Hominems etc.).

    You're dead on with the call for serious debate. It reminded me of Elder Jensen's statements when he made a call for more political diversity in the church. I quote:

    "Jensen blamed the Republican monopoly for contributing to Utah political leaders' inability or unwillingness to grapple with long-range planning issues. He pointed to the lack of state leadership on issues of open-space preservation and land-use planning.
    He also pointed to the massive, catch-up highway-building binge that has disrupted Salt Lake County commuters and businesses. "One might say that the transportation crisis that we're in might have been averted had there been better balance in the parties and something was thrashed out 10 years ago, perhaps during Gov. Bangerter's time, rather than being allowed to wait until we reached a crisis situation.
    "There are probably issues like that environmentally, educationally that we'd really benefit from if there were a more robust dialogue going on. But we've lacked that and I think we've suffered somewhat because of it.""


    That the only place I can still find the article online. You have to pay for it at the salt lake tribune website, and it's no longer up at LDS living.

  2. I think you and geoffsn did a great job explaining the difference, and I agree. But riddle me this: what do we do with D&C 18:20 - "Contend against no church, save it be the church of the devil"? Actually I think it ends up being the second (good) kind of contention you talked about--no anger (except maybe occasionally righteous anger?) but contending rather with love.

    The point is, I now like the phrase "wonderful contention" a lot, and I'll probably use it the next argument I get in with you, Diana :)

  3. Wonderful-
    of a sort that causes or arouses wonder; amazing; astonishing: