The Exhausted West

Alexander SolzhenitsynI was only recently introduced to Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and I look forward to reading and learning more about him in the future. From what I understand*, Alexander was a loyal communist in his youth. Born in 1918, he became a commander in the Russian Soviet army during World War II. As the war in Europe drew to a close, Alexander was arrested by the Soviets for writing a letter to a friend that was disrespectful toward Joseph Stalin. He was sentenced to eight years in labor camps and it was during that time of imprisonment that he appears to have abandoned Marxism and developed the Christian religious and philosophical positions he was known for later in life.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn is perhaps best known as the author of “The Gulag Archipelago” and winner of the 1970 Nobel Prize in literature. Solzhenitsyn may be the originator of the term Gulag for the vast network of punitive institutions in Soviet Russia, or if not he at least gave the term prominence in the western world. In 1978, not long after his deportation from the Soviet Union, Alexander Solzhenitsyn delivered Harvard’s commencement speech. In that same year, Harvard published an article from Solzhenitsyn entitle The Exhausted West in which he charges the Western world with losing its courage and spiritual direction. I found the article most fascinating, prescient, and just as relevant today as when it was written nearly 40 years ago. Below are some of the quotes I found most interesting.


“The blindness of superiority continues in spite of all and upholds the belief that vast regions everywhere on our planet should develop and mature to the level of present-day Western systems, which in theory are the best and in practice the most attractive. There is the belief that all those other worlds are being only temporarily prevented by wicked governments or by heavy crises or by their own barbarity and incomprehension from taking the way of Western pluralistic democracy and adopting the Western way of life; countries are judged on their progress in this direction. However, this is a conception that developed out of Western incomprehension of the essence of other worlds, out of the mistake of measuring them all with a Western yardstick. The real picture of our planet’s development is quite different.”

“The Western world has lost its civil courage, both as a whole and separately, in each country, each government, each political party, and of course in the United Nations. Such a decline in courage is particularly noticeable among the ruling groups and the intellectual elite, causing an impression of loss of courage by the entire society. Of course there are many courageous individuals, but they have no determining influence on public life.”

“Decline in courage is ironically emphasized by occasional explosions of anger and inflexibility on the part of the same bureaucrats when dealing with weak governments and weak countries, not supported by anyone, or with currents that cannot offer any resistance. But they get tongue-tied and paralyzed when they deal with powerful governments and threatening forces, with aggressors and international terrorists.”

“When the modern Western states were created, the following principle was proclaimed: governments are meant to serve man, and man lives to be free and to pursue happiness. (See, for example, the American Declaration of Independence.) Now at last, during past decades, technical and social progress have permitted the realization of such aspirations: the welfare state. Every citizen has been granted the desired freedom and material goods in such quantity and of such quality as to guarantee, in theory, the achievement of happiness, in the morally inferior sense that has come into being during those same decades.”

“People in the West have acquired considerable skill in using, interpreting, and manipulating law. Any conflict is solved according to the letter of the law, and this is considered to be the supreme solution. If one is right from a legal point of view, nothing more is required. Nobody may mention that one could still not be entirely right, and urge self-restraint, a willingness to renounce such legal rights, sacrifice, and selfless risk: it would sound simply absurd. One almost never sees voluntary self-restraint. Everybody operates at the extreme limit of those legal frames.”

“A society that is based on the letter of the law and never reaches any higher is taking very small advantage of the high level of human possibilities. The letter of the law is too cold and formal to have a beneficial influence on society. Whenever the tissue of life is woven of legalistic relations, there is an atmosphere of moral mediocrity, paralyzing man’s noblest impulses. And it will be, simply, impossible to stand through the trials of this threatening century with only the support of a legalistic structure.”

“A statesman who wants to achieve something important and highly constructive for his country has to move cautiously and even timidly: there are thousands of hasty and irresponsible critics around him; parliament and the press keep rebuffing him. As he moves ahead, he has to prove that each single step of his is well founded and absolutely flawless. In fact, an outstanding and particularly gifted person who has unusual and unexpected initiatives in mind hardly gets a chance to assert himself; from the very beginning, dozens of traps will be set for him. Thus mediocrity triumphs, with the excuse of restrictions imposed by democracy.”

human obligations Alexander Solzhenitsyn“The defense of individual rights has reached such extremes as to make society as a whole defenseless against certain individuals. It is time, in the West, to defend not so much human rights as human obligations.”

“Destructive and irresponsible freedom has been granted boundless space. Society appears to have little defense against the abyss of human decadence, such as, for example, the misuse of liberty for moral violence against young people, motion pictures full of pornography, crime, and horror. It is considered to be part of freedom and theoretically counterbalanced by the young people’s right not to look or not to accept. Life organized legalistically has thus shown its inability to defend itself against the corrosion of evil.”

“Strangely enough, though the best social conditions have been achieved in the West, there still is criminality and there even is considerably more of it than in the pauper and lawless Soviet society.”

“There is no moral responsibility for deformation or disproportion. What sort of responsibility does a journalist have to his readers, or to history? …Because instant and credible information has to be given, it becomes necessary to resort to guesswork, rumors, and suppositions to fill in the voids, and none of them will ever be rectified; they will slay on in the readers’ memory. How many hasty, immature, superficial, and misleading judgments are expressed every day, confusing readers, without any verification. The press can both simulate public opinion and miseducate it.”

“Enormous freedom exists for the press, but not for the readership, because newspapers mostly give emphasis to those opinions that do not too openly contradict their own and the general trend.”

“Without any censorship, in the West, fashionable trends of thought are carefully separated from those that are not fashionable. Nothing is forbidden, but what is not fashionable will hardly ever find its way into periodicals or books or- be heard in colleges. Legally, your researchers are free, but they are conditioned by the fashion of the day. There is no open violence such as in the East; however, a selection dictated by fashion and the need to match mass standards frequently prevents independent-minded people from giving their contribution to public life. There is a dangerous tendency to form a herd, shutting off successful development.”

“It is almost universally recognized that the West shows all the world a way to successful economic development, even though in the past years it has been strongly disturbed by chaotic inflation. However, many people living in the West are dissatisfied with their own society. They despise it or accuse it of not being up to the level of maturity attained by mankind. A number of such critics turn to socialism, which is a false and dangerous current. I hope that no one present will suspect me of offering my personal criticism of the Western system to present socialism as an alternative.”

socialism total destruction of the human spirit Alexander Solzhenitsyn“A brilliant book under the title Socialism; it is a profound analysis showing that socialism of any type and shade leads to a total destruction of the human spirit and to a leveling of mankind unto death.”

“I could not recommend your society in its present state as an ideal for the transformation of ours. Through intense suffering our country has now achieved a spiritual development of such intensity that the Western system in its present state of spiritual exhaustion does not look attractive.”

“The fight for our planet, physical and spiritual, a fight of cosmic proportions, is not a vague matter of the future; it has already started. The forces of Evil have begun their offensive-you can feel their pressure-and yet your screens and publications are full of prescribed smiles and raised glasses. What is the joy about?”

“Very well known representatives of your society, such as George Kennan, say: we cannot apply moral criteria to politics. Thus we mix good and evil, right and wrong, and make space for the absolute triumph of absolute Evil in the world. On the contrary, only moral criteria can help the West against Communism’s well-planned world strategy. There are no other criteria. Practical or occasional considerations of any kind will inevitably be swept away by strategy. After a certain level of the problem has been reached, legalistic thinking induces paralysis; it prevents one from seeing the size and meaning of events.”

“The most cruel mistake occurred with the failure to understand the Vietnam War. Some people sincerely wanted all wars to stop just as soon as possible; others believed that there should be room for national, or Communist, self·determination in Vietnam, or in Cambodia, as we see today with particular clarity. But members of the U.S. anti-war movement wound up being involved in the betrayal of Far Eastern nations, in a genocide and in the suffering today imposed on 30 million people there. Do those convinced pacifists hear the moans coming from there? Do they understand their responsibility today? Or do they prefer not to hear? The American intelligentsia lost its nerve, and as a consequence thereof danger has come much closer to the United States. But there is no awareness of this. Your short-sighted politicians who signed the hasty Vietnam capitulation seemingly gave America a carefree breathing spell; however, a hundred fold Vietnam now looms over you.”

“No weapons, no matter how powerful, can help the West until it overcomes its loss of will power.”

“The mistake must be at the root, at the very basis of human thinking in the past centuries. I refer to the prevailing Western view of the world, which was first born during the Renaissance and found its political expression in the period of the Enlightenment. It became the basis for government and social science and could be defined as rationalistic humanism or humanistic autonomy: the proclaimed and enforced autonomy of man from any higher force above him. It could also be called anthropocentricity, with man seen as the center of everything that exists.”

“The turn introduced by the Renaissance evidently was inevitable historically. The Middle Ages had come to a natural end by exhaustion, becoming an intolerable despotic repression of man’s physical nature in favor of the spiritual one. Then, however, we turned our backs upon the Spirit and embraced all that is material with excessive and unwarranted zeal. This new way of thinking, which had imposed on us its guidance, did not admit the existence of intrinsic evil in man nor did it see any higher task than the attainment of happiness on earth. It based modern Western civilization on the dangerous trend to worship man and his material needs.”

“Everything beyond physical well-being and accumulation of material goods, all other human requirements and characteristics of a subtler and higher nature, were left outside the area of attention of state and social systems, as if human life did not have any superior sense. That provided access for evil, of which in our day there is a free and constant flow. Mere freedom does not in the least solve all the problems of human life and it even adds a number of new ones.”

“However, in early democracies, as in American democracy at the time of its birth, all individual human rights were granted because man is God’s creature. That is, freedom was given to the individual conditionally, in the assumption of his constant religious responsibility.”

“A total liberation occurred from the moral heritage of Christian centuries, with their great reserves of mercy and sacrifice. State systems were becoming increasingly and totally materialistic. The West ended up by truly enforcing human rights, sometimes even excessively, but man’s sense of responsibility to God and society grew dimmer and dimmer.”

“All the glorified technological achievements of Progress, including the conquest of outer space, do not redeem the twentieth century’s moral poverty.”

socialism could never resist Communism Alexander Solzhenitsyn“Humanism without its Christian heritage cannot resist such competition. We watch this process in the past centuries and especially in the past decades, on a world scale as the situation becomes increasingly dramatic. Liberalism was inevitably displaced by radicalism, radicalism had to surrender to socialism, and socialism could never resist Communism.”

“The Communist regime in the East could stand and grow thanks to the enthusiastic support it received from an enormous number of Western intellectuals who felt a kinship and refused to see Communism’s crimes. When they no longer could ignore the crimes, they tried to justify them. In our Eastern countries, Communism has suffered a complete ideological defeat; it is zero and less than zero. But Western intellectuals still look at it with interest and with empathy, and this is precisely what makes it so immensely difficult for the West to withstand the East.”

“Imperfect man, who is never free of pride, self-interest, envy, vanity, and dozens of other defects. We are now experiencing the consequences of mistakes that were not noticed at the beginning of the journey. On the way from the Renaissance to our day we have enriched our experience, but we have lost the concept of a Supreme Complete Entity, which used to restrain our passions and our irresponsibility. We have placed too much hope in political and social reforms, only to find that we were being deprived of our most precious possession: our spiritual life. In the East, it is destroyed by the dealings and machinations of the ruling party. In the West, commercial interests tend to suffocate it. This is the real crisis. The split in the world is less terrible than the similarity of the disease plaguing its main sections.”

“If humanism were right in declaring that man is born only to be happy, he would not be born to die. Since his body is doomed to die, his task on earth evidently must be of a more spiritual nature. It cannot be unrestrained enjoyment of everyday life. It cannot be the search for the best ways to obtain material goods and then cheerfully to get the most out of them. It has to be the fulfillment of a permanent, earnest duty. so that one’s life journey may become an experience of moral growth, so that one may leave life a better human being than one started it. It is imperative to review the table of widespread human values. Its present incorrectness is astounding. It is not possible that assessment of the President’s performance be reduced to the question of how much money one makes or of unlimited availability of gasoline. Only voluntary, inspired self·restraint can raise man above the world stream of materialism.”

“If the world has not come to its end, it has approached a major turn in history, equal in importance to the turn from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. It will exact from us a spiritual upsurge: we shall have to rise to a new height of vision, to a new level of life, where our physical nature will not be cursed as in the Middle Ages, but, even more important, our spiritual being will not be trampled upon as in the modern era. This ascension will be similar to climbing up to the next anthropologic stage. No one on earth has any other way left but–upward.”


* Alexander (often Aleksandr) Solzhenitsyn, according to Wikipedia, “was a Russian novelist, historian, and short story writer. He was an outspoken critic of the Soviet Union and communism and helped to raise global awareness of its Gulag forced labor camp system. …Solzhenitsyn was awarded the 1970 Nobel Prize in Literature …[and] was eventually expelled from the Soviet Union in 1974, but returned to Russia in 1994 after the state’s dissolution.” In February 1945, “Solzhenitsyn was arrested for writing derogatory comments in private letters to a friend, Nikolai Vitkevich, about the conduct of the war by Joseph Stalin. …He was accused of anti-Soviet propaganda under Article 58 paragraph 10 of the Soviet criminal code, and of “founding a hostile organization” under paragraph 11. Solzhenitsyn was taken to the Lubyanka prison in Moscow, where he was interrogated. On 7 July 1945, he was sentenced in his absence by Special Council of the NKVD to an eight-year term in a labour camp.”

Mormons’ View of Christopher Columbus

That We May be RedeemedColumbus Appeared in Spirit to Wilford Woodruff

In August 1877, Wilford Woodruff, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, was the first president of the recently dedicated St. George Temple of the LDS Church. He reported that one day, the spirits of the founding fathers of the United States of America and other prominent men, and possibly women as well, appeared to him and asked for temple ordinances to be performed in their behalf:

“The spirits of the dead gathered around me, wanting to know why we did not redeem them. Said they, “You have had the use of the Endowment House for a number of years, and yet nothing has ever been done for us. We laid the foundation of the government you now enjoy, and we never apostatized from it, but we remained true to it and were faithful to God.” . . . They waited on me for two days and two nights. I thought it very singular, that notwithstanding so much work had been done, and yet nothing had been done for them . . . I straightway went into the baptismal font and called upon brother McCallister [J. D. T. McCallister, first counselor in the temple presidency] to baptize me for the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and fifty other eminent men, making one hundred in all, including John Wesley, Columbus, and others.” (Wilford Woodruff, in Journal of Discourses, 19:229. Also see Benson, Ezra Taft This Nation Shall Endure, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1977, 22.)

Columbus–A Man among the Gentiles

Portrait of Christopher ColumbusWhile it is interesting to note is that Christopher Columbus was among these “eminent men,” for Latter-day Saints, this is no surprise given the mention of him in the Book of Mormon. Mormons believe that Christopher Columbus is mentioned, though not by name, in the Book of Mormon when the ancient American prophet Nephi sees in vision the discovery and colonizing of America.

“And I looked and beheld a man among the Gentiles, who was separated from the seed of my brethren by the many waters; and I beheld the Spirit of God, that it came down and wrought upon the man; and he went forth upon the many waters, even unto the seed of my brethren, who were in the promised land” (1 Nephi 13:12).

James E. Talmage, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the early 1900s, said this in his seminal book, Jesus the Christ, regarding Columbus:

“Unto Nephi, son of Lehi, was shown the future of his people, including the degeneracy of a branch thereof, afterward known as Lamanites and in modern times as American Indians. The coming of a man from among the Gentiles, across the deep waters, was revealed in such plainness as to positively identify that man with Columbus; and the coming of other Gentiles to this land, out of captivity, is equally explicit. … The establishment of a great Gentile nation on the American continent, the subjugation of the Lamanites or Indians, the war between the newly established nation and Great Britain, or “their mother Gentiles,” and the victorious outcome of that struggle for independence, are set forth with equal clearness in the same chapter.”

Elder Mark E. Petersen, another apostle of the Quorum of the Twelve, also confirmed that that man among the Gentiles is Columbus.

When Columbus went to King Ferdinand, he said, “I came to Your Majesty as the emissary of the Holy Ghost.” When he stood before the clergy of San Esteban, he insisted to them that he must be regarded as a man inspired. Columbus’s own son, Fernando, in a biography of his father, quotes the discoverer as saying on one occasion, “God gave me the faith and afterward the courage so that I was quite willing to undertake the journey.” And the last will and testament of Christopher Columbus includes this expression: “In the name of the Most Holy Trinity, who inspired me with the idea and afterward made perfectly clear to me that I could navigate and go to the Indies from Spain by traversing the ocean westward” (Wasserman, Columbus, pp. 46, 61). Columbus was inspired, and Nephi looked upon him and beheld him coming to the Western Hemisphere” (Elder Mark E. Petersen – The Great Prologue, BYU Speeches, Sep. 29, 1974).

Finally, Gordon B. Hinckley, 15th president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, confirmed this about Christopher Columbus:

“The entire world is celebrating this month the five hundredth anniversary of the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus. Admiral Samuel Eliot Morison, his biographer, says, “This night of October 11–12 [1492] was one big with destiny for the human race, the most momentous ever experienced aboard any ship in any sea.” (Admiral of the Ocean Sea: A Life of Christopher Columbus, Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1942, p. 223.)

“In my private commemoration of this event, I have read and reread one important and prophetic verse from the Book of Mormon [1 Ne. 13:12], and also a very long biography of Christopher Columbus. …We interpret that [verse] to refer to Columbus. It is interesting to note that the Spirit of God wrought upon him. After reading that long biography, a Pulitzer winner of forty years ago, titled Admiral of the Ocean Sea—I have no doubt that Christopher Columbus was a man of faith, as well as a man of indomitable determination” (Building Your Tabernacle – Gordon B. Hinckley – October 1992).

Christopher Columbus Vicariously Ordained a High Priest

President Ezra Taft Benson,  13th president of the Church, said that not only was Christopher Columbus among the eminent men who appeared to Wilford Woodruff, but Columbus was one of only four men ever known to be vicariously ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood office of High Priest.

“The temple work for the fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence and other Founding Fathers has been done. All these appeared to Wilford Woodruff when he was president of the St. George Temple. President George Washington was ordained a high priest at that time. You will also be interested to know that, according to Wilford Woodruff’s journal, John Wesley, Benjamin Franklin, and Christopher Columbus were also ordained high priests at that time. When one casts doubt about the character of these noble sons of God, I believe he or she will have to answer to the God of heaven for it.” (Benson, Ezra Taft This Nation Shall Endure, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1977, 22.)

The Lord Opened My Mind

Now let’s take a closer look at Christopher Columbus’ life and events and the things he is known to have said and done which provide evidence as to why the eminent figure of history has been so honored by Mormon prophets and members. In chapter 1 of Christopher Columbus –  A Man among Gentiles, author Clark B. Hinckley says,

“Columbus himself knew exactly why he was compelled, against all odds, to do what he did. He described his motivation in these remarkable words: ‘With a hand that could be felt, the Lord opened my mind to the fact that it would be possible to sail and he opened my will to desire to accomplish the project . . . This was the fire that burned within me . . . Who can doubt that this fire was not merely mine, but also of the Holy Spirit . . . urging me to press forward?’ (West and Kling, Libro, 105.) The story of Columbus is, among many other things, a story of the fulfillment of prophecy. More than two thousand years passed from the time that simple prophecy was recorded by Nephi in the wilderness of Arabia until the fulfillment of that prophecy with Columbus’s successful voyage of discovery. And without access to Nephi’s prophecy, Columbus himself described its perfect and exact fulfillment.”

Columbus further stated about the years he spent getting approval and financing to make the voyage across the Atlantic: “I spent seven years here in your royal court discussing this subject with the leading persons in all the learned arts, and their conclusion was that all was in vain. That was the end, and they gave it up. But afterwards it all turned out just as our redeemer Jesus Christ had said, and as he had spoken earlier by the mouth of his holy prophets” (West and Kling, Libro, 107).

Near Mutiny Almost Terminated the Voyage before His Discovery

Christopher Columbus on Santa Maria in 1492On August 3, 1492, Columbus departed from Spain with three ships: the Santa María, captained by Columbus, and two smaller vessels, the Pinta and the Niña. Columbus first sailed to the Canary  Islands, where he restocked provisions and made repairs to his ships. The three ships then departed on September 6th for what turned out to be a five-week voyage across the ocean, though they weren’t without drama before they reached their destination on October 12, 1492. This is what Hinckley reports in Chapter 6 of his book:

“On 9 October, when the winds were light and the ships were traveling at only about 2 knots, the Pinzón brothers came aboard the Santa María, where they ‘held a more or less stormy conference with Columbus in his cabin, demanded that the search for land be abandoned, and that advantage be taken of the southerly breeze to start home.’ Morison concludes that Columbus convinced his captains to carry on for three more days and that the captains returned to their respective ships. On the morning of 10 October the wind picked up and the ships sped along at 7 knots. The renewed easterly winds fueled fears among the crew that a return voyage would be impossible, and the men confronted Columbus ‘with one voice’ demanding that he turn back. (Morison, Admiral of the Ocean Sea, 220–21.) This was where the enterprise came the closest to failure.”

“…One can hardly blame the sailors for their concerns nor consider them cowardly for their desire to turn around and head home. They had experienced two false landfalls, they had been in open ocean at least twice as long as any previous expedition, and by every reasonable measure they were beyond where they had been told they would find land. They had passed the 65th meridian and were north of Puerto Rico. If one looks at a map today and blocks out the Americas—unknown to Columbus and his crew—one might begin to sense the growing despair, even fear, felt by the crew. Morison characterized the attempted mutiny with these observations: ‘It was . . . the inevitable conflict between a man of one great, compelling idea and those who did not share it in anything like the same degree . . . Their issue with their commander was the eternal one between imagination and doubt, between the spirit that creates and the spirit that denies.’ (Morison, Admiral of the Ocean Sea, 215.) Columbus was unwavering, and his vision prevailed.”

Guardian Angel of America

Landing of ColumbusOrson Hyde said that the Book of Mormon prophet Moroni “calmed the troubled elements” during Columbus’ voyage, he might well have been referring to those events of October 9-10, 1492. Orson Hyde was called as one of the original members of the Twelve Apostles by the Prophet Joseph Smith in the early days of the restoration of gospel of Jesus Christ. He gave a patriotic talk about America in Salt Lake City on July 4, 1854 in which he referred to Moroni as the “guardian angel of America.” Elder Hyde said, “That same angel of God that appeared to Joseph Smith presides over the destiny of the United States of America.” Elder Hyde said that Moroni was in the camp with George Washington and helped when he had trouble. He said that same angel was with Christopher Columbus and gave him deep impressions and dreams and visions respecting the new world. He said that the Angel Moroni was with Columbus on the stormy deep and he guided his frail vessel to the desired haven, and he calmed the troubled elements. (see The Angel Moroni by Elder Glen L. Rudd, BYU–Idaho Devotional – March 11, 2003)

Comfort from a Celestial Voice

During Columbus’ fourth voyage to the Americas, he and his crew encountered terrible storms and became shipwrecked on the island of Jamaica. Their ship would never sail again, they had no way off the island, his men were having skirmishes with the native inhabitants, and Columbus was bed-stricken, suffering with a high fever. Under these circumstances, on 6 April 1503, Columbus had one of the seminal experiences of his life:

“I was completely alone outside on this dangerous coast in a high fever and a state of great exhaustion. All hope of escape was dead. I struggled up to the highest point of the ship, weeping and calling in a trembling voice to your Highnesses’ Lord of Hosts in every direction for comfort, but there was no reply. Exhausted and groaning, I fell as if asleep and heard a very compassionate voice saying:

‘O fool, slow to believe and serve thy God, the God of all! What more did he do for Moses or David his servant than he has done for thee? Since thou wast born, ever has He had thee in His watchful care. When He saw thee at an age that pleased Him, He caused thy name to sound marvelously in the land. The Indies, which were so rich a part of the world, He gave thee for thine own; thou hast divided them as it pleased thee, and He enabled thee to do this. Of the barriers of the Ocean Sea, which were closed with such mighty chains, He gave thee the key; and thou wast obeyed in many lands, and among Christians thou hast gained an honorable fame. What did He do more for the people of Israel when He brought them out of Egypt? Or for David, who from a shepherd He made to be King of Judea? Turn thyself to Him, and know now thine error; His mercy is infinite; thine old age shall not prevent thee from achieving all great things; He has many inheritances very great. Abraham was over a hundred years old when he begat Isaac, and Sarah was not a young girl. Thou criest for help, doubting. Answer, who has afflicted thee so greatly and so often, God or the world? The privileges, letters and promises that God gives are all fully kept, and after receiving service his favors increase and He grants his servants paradise. I have spoken of that which thy Creator has done for thee and does for all men. Now in part He shows thee the reward for the anguish and danger which thou hast endured in the service of others.’

“I heard all of this as if I were only partially conscious, and I had no answer to give to words so true, but could only weep for my errors. He, whoever he was who spoke to me, ended by saying: “Fear not; have trust; all these tribulations are written upon marble and are not without cause.”( Varela and Gil, Textos, 491–92)

A Divinely Chosen Person

The Book of Prophecies (in Spanish, El Libro de las Profecías) is a compilation of writing and revelations written by Christopher Columbus towards the end of his life. In Delno West’s introduction to the English translation of the book, he summarizes Columbus’ character and motives:

“Christopher Columbus looked upon himself as a man of destiny who had been given a charismatic gift to understand Scripture, navigation, maps, winds, tides, astronomy, cosmography, mathematics and related sciences. His understanding of his mission, or enterprise, was drawn from the Bible or proved by the Bible, and he knew that he was opening up new lands rich with gold and other valuables. He believed himself a chosen person working for the good of all Christendom in opening up the rest of the world to the gospel message. He knew that he would be misunderstood and maligned, but he accepted that as the lot of a divinely chosen person” (Libro de las profecias, p. 105. Raccolta, pt. I, vol. ii, p. 79. Also see Columbus and the Hand of God by De Lamar Jensen, Emeritus professor of history at BYU, Ensign Magazine, October 1992).

A Man Alone with God

Samuel Eliot Morison, author of Admiral of the Ocean Sea, said this of Columbus.

“For he was not, like a Washington, a Cromwell or a Bolivar, an instrument chosen by multitudes to express their wills and lead a cause; Columbus was a Man with a Mission. . . . He was Man alone with God against human stupidity and depravity, against greedy conquistadors, cowardly seamen, even against nature and the sea. Always with God, though. . . . Men may doubt this, but there can be no doubt that the faith of Columbus was genuine and sincere, and that his frequent communion with forces unseen was a vital element in his achievement.” (Samuel Eliot Morison, Admiral of the Ocean Sea (Boston: Little, Brown, 1942), 46—47.)

Columbus and Revelation

LDS Church scholar Hugh Nibley wrote about Christopher Columbus in chapter 2 of his book, The Prophetic Book of Mormon. Said Nibley:

“[Columbus’] contemporary and friend, Las Casas, in an oft-quoted passage says he was as certain of finding what he said he would as if he had it already locked up in his trunk. Las Casas tells how “from all sides and in many ways did God give Columbus motives and causes that he should not doubt to undertake so great a deed,” and that “God seemed to move him on by constant pushes.” (Bartolome de las Casas, Historia de las Indias (Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Economica, 1951), 27—34.) Everything else in Columbus’ life is subservient to the carrying out of that one mission. The aim and purpose of all his work and suffering was what happened at 2 A.M. on the morning of October 12, 1492, and must not be judged by what happened after (it was “the wrath of God upon the seed of my brethren,” says Nephi), or by any other quirks or misadventures. In retrospect we see that this is so—but Columbus himself always knew it was: God had chosen him to do this one great deed.

“… Sailing into a perfect blank on the map, Columbus infallibly did the right thing: “He did not make a single false move in the entire voyage!” says the geographer Professor Nunn. He maintains that Columbus must have been the discoverer of the Trade and prevailing Westerly Winds since it was only by taking fullest advantage of both that his journey was possible—yet his subsequent voyages show that Columbus knew nothing about the wind system. (See George E. Nunn, The Geographical Conceptions of Columbus, New York: American Geographical Society, 1924.) This was not Columbus’ doing. Neither was the flight of birds that appeared just in time to keep the ships from turning back, nor the sudden rising of the sea that at another time inspired the expedition to continue. Call it what you will, Columbus was convinced he was being helped.

“Finally a day came when he was forced to give the whole fleet his solemn word that he would turn back within two days if land was not discovered—and on the morning of the second day land was discovered. About eight or nine hours before the discovery, at sunset on October 11, Columbus gave a strange and sudden order for a marked change of course. ‘Why he did this, nobody explained,’ writes Professor Morison, a very sober historian and a nautical expert. (Morison, Admiral of the Ocean Sea, 223.) But he assures us that if he had not done it, the great discovery of October 12, 1492, would have been a tragic discovery of deadly reefs that lay but a short distance dead ahead of the little fleet on its original course….’No man alive,’ says Morison, speaking as a mariner, ‘limited to the instruments and means at Columbus’s disposal, could obtain anything near the accuracy of his results.’ (Morison, Admiral of the Ocean Sea, 195.)

Columbus and the Hand of God

“I could sense [God’s] hand upon me,” wrote Columbus, “so that it became clear to me that it was feasible to navigate from here to the Indies, and he gave me the will to do it” (Raccolta, pt. I, vol. ii, p. 79.). Regarding Columbus’ feeling of guidance by the hand of God, professor of history at BYU De Lamar Jensen said:

“Perhaps nothing irked his contemporaries more than Columbus’s frank assertion that he was divinely chosen. ‘God made me the messenger of the new heaven and the new earth, of which He spoke in the Apocalypse of St. John after having spoken of it by the mouth of Isaiah,’ Columbus wrote to a friend and confidant of the queen, ‘and he showed me where to find it.’ (Columbus to Doña Juana de la Torre, Raccolta di documenti e studi pubblicati della R. Commissione Colombiana, pt. I, vol. ii; I Scriti di Cristoforo Colombo, ed. Cesare de Lollis (Rome: 1894), p. 66.)

“…Columbus was convinced that the key to his enterprise was the spiritual gifts given him by the Lord: ‘He bestowed the arts of seamanship upon me in abundance, and has given me what was necessary from [astronomy], geometry, and arithmetic; and has given me adequate inventiveness in my soul.’ Columbus was certain that God provided these gifts to be used in His service, ‘encouraging me to go forward, and without ceasing they inflame me with a sense of great urgency.’ (Ibid., p. 79. also see Columbus and the Hand of God By De Lamar Jensen, Emeritus professor of history at BYU, Ensign Magazine, October 1992)

God Gave Me the Spirit and Intelligence for It

From chapter 18 of Clark B. Hinckley’s book, he summarizes Christopher Columbus’ life this way:

“Finally, what emerges from Columbus’s words as we have them in his letters, journals, and other documents is a man of deep and abiding faith. His piety was not a hollow set of daily rituals or outward appearances; his faith in God was the foundation of all he did, it was the driver of his life, and it sustained him through disappointment, rejection, and deep discouragement. He was ‘longsuffering in the challenges and adversity that always beset him, which were incredible and infinite, always with great faith in the divine Providence’ (Las Casas, Historia, 1:44). His faith begat hope that enabled him to do what others deemed impossible. He prayed with faith and received answers through faith: ‘I prayed to the most merciful Lord concerning my desire, and he gave me the spirit and the intelligence for it’ (West and Kling, Libro, 105).”

Landing Page Optimization Checklist

Landing Page Optimization ChecklistSome time ago, I created this landing page optimization checklist to make it easier for the people at my company who build landing pages to do them in the most optimal way. The checklist mentions 29 points, primarily to do with conversion optimization but also with search engine optimization topics. Download a PDF of the checklist with the button below or below that you can see the text of the checklist. Enjoy!

Landing Page Optimization Checklist

Landing Page Optimization Checklist:

Step 1: Planning
 Goal or goals of the landing page (LP) have been set by business sponsor
 Keyword research has been conducted to identify terms the audience uses most

Step 2: Content and Copy
 Duplicate content has been checked for. (Do a Google site search “site:yoursite.com ” and if a page on that topic already exists, consider using it instead of creating a new page.)
 Copy has clear and compelling value proposition and is aligned with goals
 Copy is concise and to the point, but detailed enough to help users make their decision
 Copy focuses on benefits to end-user rather than features of the product
 Important keywords are placed in prominent locations (headlines, titles, bolded, front-loaded)
 Links are descriptive of where they take the user (e.g. no “click here” or “read more”)
 Link text users click to come to the page match the LP headline (for our emails and website pages)

Step 3: Layout and Design
 LP has one, primary call to action (CTA) which is easily recognizable and above the fold
 The page is free from clutter, distractions, or undue cognitive load on end-user
 Images are relevant and add value (not just pretty and take up space)
 Brand guidelines have been followed for layout, fonts, graphics, tone, etc.
 Design and tone are consistent across all marketing channels (email, LP, fliers, post cards, etc.)
 All links, especially the primary and secondary CTAs, appear to be clickable
 The page, including copy and layout, are approved by sponsoring department, brand, and legal

Step 4: Technical Considerations when Building LP
 Page title matches H1 headline and is unique on website (Do a Google site search to verify)
 Meta description uses keywords, has compelling call to action, and is less than 160 characters
 CTAs are tracked as success events in your web analytics program
 Images use descriptive alt-text and title
 Image file names are optimized and human readable (screw-driver.jpg rather than 123xyz.jpg)
 Social media meta tags are populated for title, image, and description
 URL uses dashes “-“ rather than underscores “_” to separate words
 URL matches page title (e.g. if title = “Screw Driver” the URL should be “/screw-driver”).
 When the page is taken down, a 301 redirect to a relevant page is put in its place

Optional: Additional Search Engine Optimization
If the page is a short-term promotional page, these SEO elements are not required but still good to do.
 LP is optimized around a single, high-value keyword or phrase (i.e. the target keyword is used in the title, headline, URL, main body copy, and meta description)
 Keyword synonyms are used in the copy to make language more natural and varied
 LP has healthy amount of text (at least 100 words, preferably 500 or more) to give search engines an opportunity to understand what the topic of the page is
 High value keywords on page are linked to other optimized SEO landing pages, if they exist

Landing Page Conversion Optimization

Note: This article was originally written in 2010 and published on a different website I was running at the time.

Today’s post will discuss some of the principles of landing page optimization. Particularly, I’d like to talk about optimizing landing pages for conversion as opposed to optimizing for search engines, though those two disciplines have increasingly merged over the years as discussed in When Search Meets Web Usability. The quotes below are take from Anna Jacobson’s article in the MarketingExperiments Blog called Overcoming friction and anxiety: Suitable optimization suggestions for Men’s Wearhouse.

What is a Landing Page?

If you search the internet, you’ll find a variety of definitions of a landing page from very specific ones (like “a lead capture page”) to very general ones (like “any page a visitor lands on”). I personally prefer the more general definition with the caveat that a landing page is an entry point to your site and has a purpose to convert you, or entice you to take further action on the site. Landing pages are often arrived at in response to clicking an online advertisement, a link from a social media site, an email campaign, a search result, or a pay per click (PPC) campaign. Landing pages enhance the effectiveness of these off-site marketing channels be providing visitors with addition details (sales copy, videos, information, etc.), and provides your company with a better chance to win over those visitors.

Principles of Landing Page Conversion

Below is a formula published by Daniel Burstein of MarketingExperiments about the factors that lead to (or prevent) landing page conversion. A conversion, in this sense, refers to converting browsers into buyers, or in the case of media sites or non-commercial enterprises, getting people to take any key action. The “C” in the formula is for “conversion,” and the rest of the factors are labeled and explained below.

landing page conversion equation

Now don’t be overwhelmed is you are not a mathematician. This is not a formula to be numerically solved. The presentation as a formula and the numbers are there to help you understand how all the pieces fit together and to help you see the weight and importance of different factors. As you can see, if customers (site visitors) are properly Motivated and see the Value of the offer, it will overcome the Friction and Anxiety about taking the action (to buy something or perform another desired outcome). The friction and anxiety must be overcome by value, motivation and incentives communicated clearly on the landing page. If it helps, instead of thinking of it as a math formula, Dave Chaffey of Smart Insights points out that you can think of landing page conversion probabilities as a scale where the positive has to outweigh the negative, as shown in the image below.

landing page conversion scales weight

To help understand the equation, or the scale, whichever model you prefer, below I explain each of the factors in a little more detail.

Motivation

A landing page (including your home page) “must connect to the customer’s demand or need for a product. If they clicked on your ad, something in the ad motivated them to do so. To continue reaching that motivation, the landing page must immediately connect with your natural [or paid] search ad. The best place to do this is with a headline. Without a headline that connects with the channel, the visitor may initially question if they are in right place.”

Value Proposition

“Your value proposition communicates the unique value you have to offer your ideal prospect.” “You will also want to convey your unmatched quality.” Do not “relying on the visitor to do all the work, to search for this essential part of your value proposition.” Make sure the value is clearly communicated, not “buried on your site and you make visitors dig for it.”

Incentive

“An incentive’s function is to stimulate a desired action by your prospect.” With the Men’s Wearhouse, it’s a Buy One Get One Free offer. With you’re a religious website, the incentive might be to learn more about Jesus Christ.

Friction

“In order to identify sources of friction, we need to look for any element that may make it more difficult for a visitor to buy.” “And we cannot just identify sources of friction by looking at the page. We have to analyze how a visitor will experience the page, because friction is psychological, existing in the mind of the visitor.” “When someone lands on the page, they shouldn’t have to think about where to click. It should come naturally and instantly.”

Anxiety

As marketers, there are generally actions you can take on landing pages to help mitigate the anxiety of the end users. “Anxiety is associated with a concern about something, and [for e-commerce sites] is usually located in the payment process.” For Men’s Wearhouse, a money-back guarantee can make the difference in overcoming this anxiety. “When a customer is aware that any purchase is essentially ‘risk free,’ then it makes the final click on the purchase button so much easier.”

 

Menu Link Standards and Checklist

Menu Link Standards and ChecklistIn my work as a digital marketing analyst for Hilti, the subject of the website’s main menu comes up often. My colleagues often want to know how effective the various links in the menu are in driving traffic to the pages they care about. And the requests to put new content in the menus can be numerous at times. A recent request to add some items to the main navigation got me thinking about best practices and standards our company should have regarding the links in the menu. Such a checklist of standards could help us avoid some of the political battles we all face regarding inter-departmental competition for space in the website’s menu.

So I went back and reviewed much of the material I’ve collected over the years regarding menu purposes and principles, as well as my library of resources on information architecture (IA). What I came up with was this following checklist of ten items to consider when adding new links to the main menu of your website.

Download Menu Link Standards and Checklist

The checklist has both brief descriptions of things to check for and more details citations of why those things are important. You’ll notice that all my citations come from the Nielsen Norman Group (NNG). This is because a few years ago I took a course about information architecture for websites as part of my UX certification program from the NNG. During this course, we discussed the main purposes of website menus, the primary one being to help visitors find what they are looking for. On the internet, competitor websites are also just one click away. Therefore, it is important to help visitors find what they are looking for quickly to keep them on the site and engaged with us.

Good menus, says Jakob Nielsen, “improve the navigability of your site [and] by helping users find more, they’ll help you sell more” (see Mega Menus Work Well for Site Navigation). I believe if you and your company strive to follow the guidelines in this document you will achieve just that–users will be able to more easily find your content that they are looking for and your conversions rates will go up.

The following guidelines should help your site, whether your information architecture is the result of research and testing, or if your menu has a less than optimal IA that you inherited and has more influence by company politics than usability best practices. And while I think the checklist is pretty good, that’s not to say it can’t be improved. If you have any suggested edits or additions, please let me know. Thanks.

Here’s the Checklist:

Standard Details Citations
□ Link is truly necessary in menu Too many links in the menu can cause clutter, make things harder to find, and ultimately do more harm than good. Rather than cramming everything into the menu, “Instead, make each top-level menu choice clickable, leading to a regular Web page where you present all dropdown options in plain, fully accessible HTML.” https://www.nngroup.com/articles/mega-menus-work-well/

 

□ Link goes to content that is important to end users The menu should reflect content most desired by end-users rather than company internal initiatives. Exceptions may occur but should be rare. “To engage users, website copy must speak to readers and not at them. …Users want to know what the product or service will do for them. …On the web, users are task oriented. They are often looking to answer a question, solve a problem, or find information.”

https://www.nngroup.com/articles/user-centric-language/

□ Link is at highest logical place in information architecture A flat shallow menu hierarchy is preferable to deep and narrow one. “Content is more discoverable when it’s not buried under multiple intervening layers. All other things being equal, deep hierarchies are more difficult to use.”

https://www.nngroup.com/articles/flat-vs-deep-hierarchy/

□ Link is placed where users are most likely to look for it Think like an end user hunting for information. Where would they look first, second, and so forth? “Information scent refers to the extent to which users can predict what they will find if they pursue a certain path through a website.” https://www.nngroup.com/articles/wrong-information-scent-costs-sales/
□ Link text uses words familiar to our audience Avoid using company-specific jargon. Titles of menu links should be short, descriptive, and intuitive for the average users. “Ideally, jargon and branded terms that aren’t universally understood should be used only within the content pages, where users have context clues to help them understand what the unfamiliar terms mean. Findability is maximized by old, well-known words instead of new, made-up words.”

https://www.nngroup.com/articles/fixing-bad-intranet-navigation/

□ Link text incorporates high-value SEO keywords. Menu links are among the most crawled by search engines, and their SEO value is high. Do keyword research to find effective terms. “There are many elements to search engine optimization, but SEO guideline #1 is our old friend, ‘speak the user’s language.’ Or, more precisely, when you write, use keywords that match users’ search queries.”

https://www.nngroup.com/articles/web-writing-use-search-keywords/

□ Link text leads with high-value keywords The highest value keywords should be front-loaded in the menu’s hyperlinked text. “Start subheads, paragraphs, and bullet points with information-carrying words that users will notice. …They’ll read the third word on a line much less often than the first two words.” https://www.nngroup.com/articles/f-shaped-pattern-reading-web-content/
□ Link text accurately describes the destination page Users should easily understand what every link leads to and not be disappointed when they get there. “Any broken promise, large or small, chips away at trust and credibility. The words in a link label make a strong suggestion about the page that is being linked to. The destination page should fulfill what the anchor text promises.” https://www.nngroup.com/articles/link-promise/
□ Link text and URL is unique on menu Each link in menu should be unique, both in URL destination and the link text should clearly differentiate itself from other options. “Unclear naming is one of the biggest and most important projects to tackle when it comes to [information architecture]. Each navigation category must be descriptive, specific, and mutually exclusive so that users can pick where to navigate without hesitation.”

https://www.nngroup.com/articles/intranet-information-architecture-ia/

□ Order of links is as meaningful as possible Menu items should only be in alphabetical order if there is no better way to organize. “Consider: Is there another organizing principle that would be more meaningful? …Usually, there’s another way to organize content that is better than alphabetical organization.”

https://www.nngroup.com/articles/ia-questions-navigation-menus/

Writing Headlines for the Web

Note: This article was originally written in December 2010 and published on a different website I was running at the time.

writing headlines for the webWhen writing headlines for the Web, copywriters must take everything they have learned about traditional print headlines, and add to that the need to optimize for search and make them usable for Web audiences.  Striking the proper balance between traditional headline strategies, search optimization, and web usability needs will help improve the likelihood that articles will be found, headlines will be read, and articles will be enjoyed by the reading public.

Traditional Headlines

The headline is the first impression made on a prospective reader, so it better be a good impression to keep them reading. The importance of taking the time and effort to write good headlines cannot be overstated, and some say that nothing distinguishes a professional author from an amateur so quickly as the quality of the headlines.

When writing headlines or titles to articles there is a lot to consider.  Well-written headlines must distill the essence of the story, they should grab the readers get attention and lead the reader into the rest of the story.  Without a headline or title that converts a browser into a reader, the rest of the words in the article may as well not even exist.

Search Optimized Headlines

While authors and journalist have traditionally spent a lot of time crafting the perfect headline, if you are writing for the Web, there is even more to consider. In crafting traditional headlines, you can assume that potential readers have already found the article; they have the newspaper or magazine already in hand.  But on the Web, there is a crucial prior step that relies heavily on the headline content: making sure the article gets found. If the article can’t be found by search engines, and by the target readers query on a search engine, then the article may never be found, much less be read by the target audience.

SEOmoz, a leading search engine marketing consultancy firm, ranks the page title as one of the top elements in search engine ranking factors that will boost your article’s findability.  Therefore, the words in the title of your article will have a greater impact than any other on whether or not that article is found by search engines, and consequently, found by the majority of Web surfers who begin their Internet experience at a search engine.

So what does a search optimized headline look like? It is simply one that uses words that people use: words that people search for and scan for. So be sure to do your keyword research to find out what those words and phrases are. And of course, remember to consider information scent.

Usable Headlines

Frequently, search optimized headlines are naturally usable, but not always. With short attention spans and the competition being just one click away, Web headlines must also follow usability guidelines.  Jakob Nielsen, renown Web usability expert, gives the following guidelines for writing web headlines:

  • Keep headlines short because people don’t read much online.
  • Make headlines rich in information scent, clearly summarizing the article.
  • Front-load headlines with the most important keywords, because users often scan only the beginning of headlines.
  • Make headlines understandable out of context, because headlines often appear without articles, as in search engine results.
  • Create headlines that are predictable, so users know whether they’ll like the full article before they click it. (People don’t return to sites that promise more than they deliver.)

When Search Meets Web Usability

Note: This article was originally written in August 2010 and published on a different website I was running at the time.

When Search Meets Web Usability is a great little book by Shari Thurow and Nick Musica about how to help users find what they are looking for on your website. One of the first things the authors do is to establish that their view that traditional search engine optimization (SEO) should go beyond optimizing content for search engines, and even beyond optimizing content for search engine users. In the book, they talk about search usability, the combination of SEO and web usability, and how it means optimizing the entire experience of finding what you are looking for on the web, regardless of how you search.when search meets web usability

“On the web, it is easy to see why the word search is associated with search engines only…Billions of searches are performed on Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft Live every month. Millions of websites have a site search engine. Therefore, considering the tremendous use of web and site searches, millions of people associate online searching with search engines.”

“However, people do not use only the commercial web search engines to look for content on the web. People might go to a specific web page after they remember a reference from newspaper, billboard, television show, radio program, or even word of mouth…In addition, people might look for web content by clicking a link from an email, text message, or an online advertisement. They also locate web content by clicking links from one site to another, commonly known as surfing or browsing the web…When searching these other ways, we still “search.”

“On the web, search usability refers to how easily users can locate and discover content on a site via retrieval (searching/querying) and navigation (browsing).” When Search Meets Web Usability, pages 2 –3.

The book goes on to talk about information scent in great detail and many other search usability topics. Here are some of my favorites quotes from the book:

Understanding Audience Needs Up Front: “If searchers’ needs and abilities were not considered when determining the requirements, design, and programming of a website, then the site is likely to require more changes and enhancements. Result? Businesses must allocate more staff and/or more staff time to a website to fix problems that should have been addressed before the site was launched.” p. 14

Large Flash Animations and Videos Can Be Distractions: When users are on transactional searches, “don’t delay, diminish, distract from, or hide the scent of information by initiating an action” (p. 70) such as playing a video or displaying a Flash animation. “Many Flash sites appear to be misleading links in search listings because searchers do not see keywords in the search listing also appearing on the landing page.” p. 80

Searching Does Not End When a SERP Result is Clicked: “Searching does not end after a person clicks a link from a search engine results page (SERP) to a website.” At that point, “they have two choices: They can either stay on your site, or they can abandon it.” p 71-72. Much of that decision rests on the information scent on the landing page.

Place Keywords and Calls to Action Prominently: “Recent studies show that users only read about 20 percent of the words on a web page. Therefore…important keywords and calls to action need to be featured prominently (above the fold) on web pages.” p. 72

Help Visitors Get Oriented: “The presence of easily scanned you are here cues makes users feel your site is trustworthy and credible.” p. 81 “Websites that facilitate scanning and orienting help searchers reach their goals more quickly and efficiently; increasing user confidence, trust, and credibility; and can help sites achieve and maintain top search engine positions.” p. 85

Search Usability Reduces Costs: “The more a call center or customer’s support is resolved online the less need there is to staff a call center or customer service department. That could mean significant savings for a company’s bottom line. Search usability efforts can help control operational expenses by reducing the number of phone calls that customer service receives.” p. 98

Effective Landing Page Designs: “Everything cannot be the most important thing on a web page. Home pages are usually the biggest casualty of the ‘everything is important’ disease…By making everything look equally important, the message you are sending to users is that nothing is important…Additionally, the resulting web page often looks cluttered, which can irritate and confuse site visitors.” p. 110

Write with the Words People Use: Web “copywriters should have access to the results of keyword research to understand what words and phrases users use in  their queries…and scanning, foraging, and browsing on your website. If possible, web copywriters should observe usability tests, talk with focus groups, and have access to other market research noting the words users use to describe products and tasks.” p. 116

Search Usability Impact on your Brand: “The more users are forced to muddle through your website not finding what they are looking for, the more your website communicates a negative brand experience.” p. 117

High Quality of Search Engine Traffic: “Traffic from the commercial web search engines is user initiated, pre-qualified, and task-based. Therefore, [these] users…should be more interested in your content than users who landed on your website by clicking links out of curiosity.” p. 121

Importance of Keyword Research: “Web usability professionals should familiarize themselves with the paid and free keyword research tools.” Through these, “you’ll see the most popular keywords users use to query, keywords usage trends, and variations of keyword phrases users favor.” p. 125

Understand Users Before You Build: “If you don’t take the time to understand your users, you can expect they will abandon your site and go to your competitors’. As a result, a good portion of your website maintenance will go to correcting your lack of user understanding.” p. 126

Focus Groups Are Not Usability Test: “Focus group participants may tell you that they want specific information and functionality on your website, but you really don’t know if that’s true until you usability test…People say one thing, but do another. Therefore, do usability testing if you want to know how users will use your site.” p. 131

Avoiding Unnecessary Features: “Features are only cool if users think they’re cool. Users may find features annoying and distracting. Avoid worshipping the cool. Focus on the useful and relevant.” p. 136

Don’t Start Construction without a Blueprint: “One of the biggest and most common mistakes made when building websites is when graphic designers go straight to [a] graphics program and start designing. This is like a construction company starting to construct a building without a blueprint…Bad information architecture will cripple your [website].” p. 137

Look and Feel are Easy to Change, Information Architecture Is Not: “Look and feel, and the emotions evoked from images, are very important, but those shouldn’t be pursued at the expense of the website information architecture. More thought and discussion is typically put into a photograph that can be easily swapped out than the backbone of the site—the information architecture. This needs to change if search usability is to succeed.” p. 138

Insight by Watching Someone Use Your Site: “Watching a user freely explore your website will open your eyes to stumbling blocks that you may have never considered otherwise.” p. 160

Good Web Sites Require User Feedback: “There are plenty of software applications and tutorials online that will help you technically put together a website. This explains why there are so many mediocre websites. You need to interact with people similar to your users if you want to create a good website.” p. 164

Ignore Users and They’ll Go Away: “You can be apathetic and ignore your users until they go away, or you can be empathetic and help your users, and they will eventually make your site a success.” p. 166

How to Vote: Gospel Principles for Choosing Political Candidates

In anticipation of the upcoming presidential election in the United States, I have asked many people why they support their candidate of choice. I was curious how my own decision making process aligned, or not, with other people’s. Reasons varied, of course, but generally focused around job qualifications and policy stances. Very few people, thought, cited principles, their own or the candidates, when telling be about their decision making process on who to vote for.

The primary and overriding character trait I am looking for from a political official is honesty and integrity. I don’t care how smart, how politically savvy, how well spoken, and how talented an individual is, if I cannot trust that they’ll always act with integrity, then I don’t want them in a leadership position. I would gladly vote for a less qualified, less capable candidate who is honest over a more qualified and capable candidate that I cannot trust.

principles, not people, causes, not candidates, maxwellBut those are my opinions, and this line of thought got me thinking about the eternal gospel principles behind the decision of who to vote for. And I wondered what The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches regarding how to vote, as the Church itself remains politically neutral and will not tell you who to vote for, candidates or political parties. As Elder Neal A. Maxwell, said:

“Discipleship includes good citizenship. In this connection, if you are a careful student of the statements of the modern prophets, you will have noticed that with rare exceptions—especially when the First Presidency has spoken out—the concerns expressed have been over moral issues, not issues between political parties. The declarations are about principles, not people; and causes, not candidates” (A More Determined Discipleship, 10 October 1978).

Here’s what I found from the Church on how to vote, or as I’m calling it, gospel principles for choosing political candidates.

What the Scriptures Say about Who to Vote For

honest men should be sought“And that law of the land which is constitutional, supporting that principle of freedom in maintaining rights and privileges, belongs to all mankind, and is justifiable before me. Therefore, I, the Lord, justify you, and your brethren of my church, in befriending that law which is the constitutional law of the land; And as pertaining to law of man, whatsoever is more or less than this, cometh of evil. I, the Lord God, make you free, therefore ye are free indeed; and the law also maketh you free. Nevertheless, when the wicked rule the people mourn. Wherefore, honest men and wise men should be sought for diligently, and good men and wise men ye should observe to uphold; otherwise whatsoever is less than these cometh of evil” (D&C 98:5-10).

What Modern Prophets Say about How to Vote

upright and good and aspirational leaders - ChristoffersonWhen I was listening to LDS General Conference in April of this year, I was struck by something Elder D. Todd Christofferson said about his father, a politician. I wonder if he was subtlety giving us criteria by which we should select candidates to vote for. He said his father, a city councilman, was “upright and good and an aspirational example.” Here’s the full quote in context:

“I myself was blessed with an exemplary father. I recall that when I was a boy of about 12, my father became a candidate for the city council in our rather small community. He did not mount an extensive election campaign—all I remember was that Dad had my brothers and me distribute copies of a flyer door to door, urging people to vote for Paul Christofferson. There were a number of adults that I handed a flyer to who remarked that Paul was a good and honest man and that they would have no problem voting for him. My young boy heart swelled with pride in my father. It gave me confidence and a desire to follow in his footsteps. He was not perfect—no one is—but he was upright and good and an aspirational example for a son” (from his talk entitled Fathers).

John Taylor, the third President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said this in 1855: “We believe that all legislative assemblies should confine themselves to constitutional principles; and that all such laws should be implicitly obeyed by every American . . . .We believe that legislators ought to be chosen on account of their intelligence, honor, integrity, and virtue, and not because they belong to some particular party clique. We believe that the high party strife, logrolling, wirepulling, and political juggling, and spoliation, are a disgrace to any politician, that they are beneath the dignity of an American, and disgraceful and humiliating, alike to the people and statesmen of this great republic” (John Taylor, 1855, Gospel Kingdom, p. 310). This quote was found on TheMoralLiberal.com, among other online sources.

Another guideline was given by President David O. McKay in his October 1962 General Conference talk entitled, The Gospel and the Individual:

“In these days of uncertainty and unrest, liberty-loving people’s greatest responsibility and paramount duty is to preserve and proclaim the freedom of the individual, his relationship to Deity, and the necessity of obedience to the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Only thus will mankind find peace and happiness. We find ourselves now immersed in a great political campaign in America for the purpose of selecting candidates for office in local, state, and national positions. We urge you as citizens to participate in this great democratic process in accordance with your honest political convictions. However, above all else, strive to support good and conscientious candidates of either party who are aware of the great dangers inherent in communism, and who are truly dedicated to the Constitution in the tradition of our rounding fathers. They should also pledge their sincere fealty to our way of liberty—a liberty which aims at the preservation of both personal and property rights. Study the issues, analyze the candidates on these grounds, and then exercise your franchise as free men and women. Never be found guilty of exchanging your birthright for a mess of pottage (Gen. 25:30-34)!”

Civic Standards for the Faithful Saints

As I have studied this subject, I found a great talk by Ezra Taft Benson from the April 1972 General Conference called Civic Standards for the Faithful Saints. In it, he said, “The First Presidency …gave us the guideline a few years ago of supporting political candidates ‘who are truly dedicated to the Constitution in the tradition of our Founding Fathers.’” He went on to list what he called the “four great civic standards for the faithful Saints.” They are:

  1. “First, the Constitution ordained by God through wise men.”
  2. “Second, the scriptures, particularly the Book of Mormon.”
  3. “Third, the inspired counsel of the prophets, especially the living president.”
  4. “Fourth, the guidance of the Holy Spirit.”

Stand Up for Freedom No Matter What the Cost

Finally, here is another quote I really like from Ezra Taft Benson. I put it last because I’m not certain of the accuracy of the source. I only found it one a single website called inspiredconstitution.org. According to the site, this is a statement from Ezra Taft Benson as quoted by Jerreld L. Newquist in his book, Prophets, Principles and National Survival.

“There are some people who hesitate to get into this fight for freedom because it’s controversial, or they’re not sure if we’re going to win. These people have two blind spots. First, they fail to realize that life’s decisions should be based on principles—not on Gallup polls. There were men at Valley Forge who weren’t sure how the Revolution would end, but they were in a much better position to save their own souls and their country than those timid men whose major concern was deciding which side was going to win, or how to avoid controversy. After all, the basic purpose of life is to prove ourselves—not to be with the majority when it’s wrong. We must discharge responsibilities not only to our church, home and profession, but also to our country. Otherwise, we do not merit the full blessings of a kind Providence. There are people tonight all over the world who in their own courageous and sometimes quiet way are working for freedom. In many cases we will never know until the next life all they sacrificed for liberty. These patriots are receiving heaven’s applause for the role they are playing, and in the long run that applause will be louder and longer than any they could receive in this world.

This leads me to the second blind spot of those who hesitate to get into the fight. And that is their failure to realize that we will win in the long run, and for keeps, and that they pass up great blessings by not getting into the battle now when the odds are against us and the rewards are greatest. The only questions, before the final victory, are, first, “What stand will each of us take in this struggle?”; and second, “How much tragedy can be avoided by doing something now?” Time is on the side of truth—and truth is eternal. Those who are fighting against freedom may feel confident now, but they are short-sighted. This is still God’s world. The forces of evil, working through some mortals, have made a mess of a good part of it. But, it is still God’s world. In due time when each of us has had a chance to prove ourselves—including whether or not we are going to stand up for freedom—then God will interject himself and the final and eternal victory shall be for free agency. And then shall those people on the sidelines, and those who took the wrong but temporarily popular course, lament their decisions. To the patriots I say this: Take that long eternal look. Stand up for freedom, no matter what the cost. It can save your soul—and maybe your country. (Ezra Taft Benson, 9/23/63)”

Conclusion

I want to help save the country by casting my vote for someone who will strengthen our nation. But as President Benson said, I am most concerned about the salvation of my soul and that can only be done by staying on the Lord’s side and following his counsel as received through His Spirit, the scriptures, and the modern prophets. That counsel tells me that I should not select candidates for political office based on party affiliation or the way the polls tell me other people are voting. Therefore,  I will cast my vote based on principles, mine and the candidates. I will seek out and vote for the candidate who, in my evaluation, has demonstrated wisdom and competence, who loves freedom and goodness, and who, most importantly, has honesty and integrity.

The Constitution – A Heavenly Banner

satan restricts our agency through governmentThe Constitution – A Heavenly Banner is a talk that President Ezra Taft Benson gave at BYU on September 16, 1986. Though the audience was the university staff and students, Jeffrey R. Holland said the message was directed to all members of the Church. I recently re-read the talk and was impressed with what he said. The concerns he addressed had clearly been on his mind for some time. And if his imploring to return to Constitutional principles was that urgent and important in 1986, oh how important it is for us today!

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the talk:

“The central issue in the premortal council was: Shall the children of God have untrammeled agency to choose the course they should follow, whether good or evil, or shall they be coerced and forced to be obedient? Christ and all who followed him stood for the former proposition—freedom of choice; Satan stood for the latter—coercion and force. The war that began in heaven over this issue is not yet over. The conflict continues on the battlefield of mortality. And one of Lucifer’s primary strategies has been to restrict our agency through the power of earthly governments.”

governments should have only limited powers

“Basic to our understanding of the Constitution is that governments should have only limited powers. government cannot claim the power to redistribute moneyThe important thing to keep in mind is that the people who have created their government can give to that government only such powers as they, themselves, have in the first place.”

“By deriving its just powers from the governed, government becomes primarily a mechanism for defense against bodily harm, theft, and involuntary servitude. It cannot claim the power to redistribute money or property nor to force reluctant citizens to perform acts of charity against their will. Government is created by the people. No individual possesses the power to take another’s wealth or to force others to do good, so no government has the right to do such things either. The creature cannot exceed the creator.”

“The most important single function of government is to secure the rights and freedoms of individual citizens.”constitution designed to limit government

“The powers the people granted to the three branches of government were specifically limited. The Founding Fathers well understood human nature and its tendency to exercise unrighteous dominion when given authority. A constitution was therefore designed to limit government to certain enumerated functions, beyond which was tyranny.”

“At this bicentennial celebration we must, with sadness, say that we have not been wise in keeping the trust of our Founding Fathers. For the past two centuries, those who do not prize freedom have chipped away at every major clause of our Constitution until today we face a crisis of great dimensions.”

chipped away at our Constitution“We must be righteous and moral. We must live the gospel principles—all of them. We have no right to expect a higher degree of morality from those who represent us than what we ourselves are. To live a higher law means we will not seek to receive what we have not earned by our own labor. It means we will remember that government owes us nothing. It means we will keep the laws of the land. It means we will look to God as our Lawgiver and the source of our liberty.”

The Lincoln Hypothesis

The Lincoln Hypothesis CoverI recently read and thoroughly enjoyed The Lincoln Hypothesis: a modern-day abolitionist investigates the possible connection between Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, and Abraham Lincoln by Timothy Ballard. For my own record, and also for the TL;DR crowd, below are some of my favorite quotes.

Disclaimer for the Compelling yet Unsubstantiated Assertions in the Book

“This book will contain many valuable facts and sound historical conclusions, but it will also include unsubstantiated, yet compelling, ideas that I believe are also worthy of serious consideration” (from the Preface).

Introduction: The Hypotheses

  • “Abraham Lincoln’s mission directly revolved around the prophecies of Joseph Smith”
  • “Joseph’s works and prophecies, operating together with Lincoln’s revelations and reactions, created the perfect formula for the building up of Zion and for the establishment of temples on the earth”
  • “The key that unlocked this knowledge for Abraham Lincoln was a copy of the Book of Mormon that ended up in his possession precisely during the darkest days of the Civil War, right when he needed it the most.”

Chapter 1: Easter Sunday, 1865

Abraham Lincoln was shot by an assassin’s bullet on Good Friday, April 14, 1865. “Abraham Lincoln had been struck down on the very night that commemorates the murder of our Lord.”

Abraham Lincoln’s secretary of state, William H. Seward, had turned to God upon the death of his daughter in 1837. When “he was baptized a Christian. He wrote his wife of that day, explaining to her that during his baptismal service he thought continually of “our child-angel, ‘that left her errand with my heart and straight returned to heaven.’” He resolved on that Easter “to live more in the fear of and under the influence of love and gratitude to God” and to “gradually elevate and refine my motives of action.””

Abraham Lincoln’s “sacrifice directly led to that thing which is of greatest import. Indeed, his life and death represent a crowning achievement in the building of the kingdom of God and in the development of the Restoration of the gospel.”

Chapter 2: The Witness

On his humility: “Abraham Lincoln did very little to ensure his own personal legacy. He did not begin a memoir, nor did he keep a regular detailed journal. He simply was not consumed by the power of his position.”

Waiting on General McClellan — The Humility of Abraham Lincoln: “Hay could not understand why Lincoln acted as though he didn’t even notice the snub. The president then calmly told Hay that “it was better at this time not to be making points of etiquette and personal dignity.””

“He would be asked of God Almighty to dramatically change the national course—a change that everybody, himself included, believed would be his political suicide. But God needed it done, and Lincoln was one of the few prepared to do it. “Whatever shall appear to be God’s will,” declared Lincoln, “I will do!””

Chapter 3: The Covenant Day

George Washington, in his first inaugural address, said, “The propitious smiles of Heaven, can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right, which Heaven itself has ordained.” In the author’s opinion, this “was the day that a covenant between God and America was officially invoked over all the land. I will be your God, the Almighty had declared. Will you be my people? This covenant—and its power to heal the land—is the secret Lincoln learned and employed to save America.”

Washington insisted that “Providence has heretofore saved us in remarkable manner and on this we must principally rely.”

Washington would explain in reference to his Yorktown victory, “in acknowledging that the interposing hand of Heaven, in various instances of our preparations for this operation, has been most conspicuous and remarkable.”

Book of Mormon prophet Lehi said: “Yea, the Lord hath covenanted this land unto me, and to my children forever, and also all those who should be led out of other countries by the hand of the Lord. . . . And if it so be that they shall serve him according to the commandments which he hath given, it shall be a land of liberty unto them; wherefore, they shall never be brought down into captivity” (2 Nephi 1:5, 7).

“The covenant is on our land. This idea would have powerful consequences in Lincoln’s day, for it was this concept that would begin to define Lincoln and make him the indispensable servant of God.”

“This whole story—the purpose for this book—revolves around the temple. What do you think happens when evil creeps into the promised land and begins destroying temples and obstructing their development? How far will God go to defend His temple?”

“A major purpose of the Civil War was to cleanse the land so that temples could be built and maintained unmolested by evil.”

Chapter 4: Joseph, Abraham, and the Breach

In 1838, a young Abraham Lincoln declared: “Whenever the vicious portion of the population shall be permitted to gather in bands of hundreds and thousands, and burn churches, ravage and rob provision-stores, throw printing presses into rivers, shoot editors, and hang and burn obnoxious persons at pleasure, and with impunity; depend on it, . . . this Government cannot last.”

A few years later, when the Mormons had received just the kind of treatment Lincoln described above, Joseph Smith declared: “Unless the United States redress the wrongs committed upon the Saints in the state of Missouri and punish the crimes committed by her officers that in a few years the government will be utterly overthrown and wasted, and there will not be so much as a potsherd left for their wickedness in permitting the murder of men, women and children, and the wholesale plunder and extermination of thousands of her citizens to go unpunished, thereby perpetuating a foul and corroding blot upon the fair fame of this great republic.”

Abraham Lincoln described what America’s founding fathers did as “the noblest cause—that of establishing and maintaining civil and religious liberty.” He described the Founders as “the pillars of the temple of liberty.”

Joseph concurred when he stated that “the very thought of [America’s sins] would have caused the high-minded and patriotic framers of the Constitution of the United States to hide their faces with shame.”

Chapter 5: The Prophet for President

“We must understand that the way things were going for Joseph and the Saints, the temples of God could not stand. They had been, and would be, continually obstructed, confiscated, and burned if the national status quo remained. Again I ask, what is the purpose of a promised land if you can’t have a temple therein?”

“An appeal for redress had been made to President Andrew Jackson. But the Prophet was turned down. A later appeal in person to President Martin Van Buren produced the same results: though the president agreed the Mormon cause was “just,” he told Joseph that the federal government could not intervene in matters pertaining to the states. His federal authority was too limited.”

“After claiming America as His design (verse 80), the Lord declared to His prophet and church, “Let them importune at the feet of the judge; and if he heed them not, let them importune at the feet of the governor; and if the governor heed them not, let them importune at the feet of the president” (D&C 101:86–88).”

“If state governments decided to deny any group of people basic First Amendment rights, they could do so? Unfortunately, yes. This is the dirty little secret of ­nineteenth-century America. That grand Bill of Rights pertained only to the federal government. In other words, only the federal government had to respect those precious rights. The states could do what they wanted. They could apply those sacred rights, or they could deny them. Too often, they chose the latter. And the federal government, agreeing with the constitutional interpretation of the states, would not come to the rescue. As a result, the Latter-day Saints and other minorities suffered dearly.”

Joseph Smith said: “I am the greatest advocate of the Constitution of the United States there is on earth. In my feelings I am always ready to die for the protection of the weak and oppressed in their just rights. The only fault I find with the Constitution is, it is not broad enough to cover the whole ground. Although it provides that all men shall enjoy religious freedom, yet it does not provide the manner by which that freedom can be preserved, nor for the punishment of Government officers who refuse to protect the people in their religious rights, or punish the mobs, states, or communities who interfere with the rights of the people on account of their religion. Its sentiments are good, but it provides no means of enforcing them. It has but this one fault. Under its provision, a man or a people who are able to protect themselves can get along well enough; but those who have the misfortune to be weak or unpopular are left to the merciless rage of popular fury. The Constitution should contain a provision that every officer of the Government who should neglect or refuse to extend the protection guaranteed in the Constitution should be subject to capital punishment; and then the president of the United States would not say, “Your cause is just, but I can do nothing for you.””

“And so we come to what Joseph called the provision: an amendment to the Constitution that would bring consequences to state governments that denied the constitutional rights of the people. This provision has since been achieved. Indeed, we no longer face the challenges of the early Saints. Why? Because Joseph’s provision is here! We call it the Fourteenth Amendment. It simply proclaims that all Americans are heirs to the blessings of the Constitution.”

“Interestingly, the father of the Constitution seems to have had the intuition of Joseph Smith. Yes, James Madison, who was a principal author of the Bill of Rights, called for the very same provision to be added to the Constitution. He knew the states were abusing religious minorities; he saw it happening in his own beloved Virginia. The Constitution was his chance to stop it. He wanted to use the Constitution to influence the new national government to block the oppression.”

During the creation of the Bill of Rights, James Madison proposed the following amendment: “No state shall violate the equal rights of conscience, or the freedom of the press, or the trial by jury in criminal cases.” Unfortunately, this amendment was not included in the bill of rights.

Joseph the candidate called for slavery’s eradication. He pointed out the great American irony of the Declaration of Independence: that it preached the words and promises of liberty to all, even while “at the same time some two or three millions of people are held as slaves for life, because the spirit in them is covered with a darker skin.”

The Prophet Joseph Smith declared: “Break off the shackles from the poor black man, and hire them to labor like other human beings. …Set them free, educate them and give them their equal rights.”

George Q. Cannon said: “Certain it is that had Joseph Smith been elected President of the United States and had been sustained by Congress in his poli­cies, this land would have been spared the desolating war which filled its hamlets and fields with carnage and its homes with sobbing widows and orphans.”

Chapter 6: The Civil War Prophecies

After declaring that “It is not right that any man should be in bondage one to another.” The Lord said, “For this purpose have I established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose.” D&C 101:79-80. Then he commanded Joseph Smith to make an appeal for help to the federal government in regards to the Saints mistreatment in Missouri. Then continued the Lord, “And if the president heed them not, then will the Lord arise and come forth out of his hiding place, and in his fury vex the nation; And in his hot displeasure, and in his fierce anger, in his time, will cut off those wicked, unfaithful, and unjust stewards, and appoint them their portion among hypocrites, and unbelievers.” D&C 101:89-90

As the Civil War began, Brigham Young declared: “God has come out of his hiding-place and has commenced to vex the nation that has rejected us, and he will vex it with a sore vexation.” A few years later, he said, “[Joseph’s] prediction is being fulfilled, and we cannot help it.”

The Book of Mormon contains many statements about the covenant upon the land of America. One of the best is in Ether 2: 9 – 12 “And now, we can behold the decrees of God concerning this land, that it is a land of promise; and whatsoever nation shall possess it shall serve God, or they shall be swept off when the fulness of his wrath shall come upon them. And the fulness of his wrath cometh upon them when they are ripened in iniquity. For behold, this is a land which is choice above all other lands; wherefore he that doth possess it shall serve God or shall be swept off; for it is the everlasting decree of God. And it is not until the fulness of iniquity among the children of the land, that they are swept off. And this cometh unto you, O ye Gentiles, that ye may know the decrees of God—that ye may repent, and not continue in your iniquities until the fulness come, that ye may not bring down the fulness of the wrath of God upon you as the inhabitants of the land have hitherto done. Behold, this is a choice land, and whatsoever nation shall possess it shall be free from bondage, and from captivity, and from all other nations under heaven, if they will but serve the God of the land, who is Jesus Christ, who hath been manifested by the things which we have written.”

Chapter 7: Lincoln’s First Holy Field: Willie and the Divine

In the aftermath of his son Willie’s death, those close to Lincoln “would witness the president during his lunchtime, his eyes fixed on the Bible. He would often seek out the nurse to discuss a particular passage. His conversion [to the American Covenant] was taking place.”

“Lincoln was at last on firmer ground than ever before in his life. He was prepared to be what he often claimed he wanted to be: “a humble instrument in the hands of our Heavenly Father.”

“He would take his newfound spiritual power and apply it to his national calling. Speaking to a group during those days and weeks of spiritual enlightenment, the president declared: “Whatever shall appear to be God’s will, I will do.””

Chapter 8: Lincoln’s Second Holy Field: The Grassy Meadow of Frederick

“The Emancipation Proclamation, of course, did not free all slaves, but it began the process. It paved the way for the Thirteenth Amendment (which did free them all) and for the Fourteenth Amendment, which would usher in an era in which state governments could no longer deny their own people the God-given rights offered in the Constitution.”

“It has pleased Almighty God to put me in my present position,” Lincoln told one friend in the spring of 1862, “and looking up to him for divine guidance, I must work out my destiny as best I can.” Similarly, he told another group that “it is my earnest desire to know the will of Providence in this matter [of emancipation]. And if I can learn what it is I will do it.” In September 1862, after being pressed by those seeking clarification of his intention over emancipation, he would only say that the subject was “on my mind, by day and night, more than any other. Whatever shall appear to be God’s will, I will do.”

In September 1862, Lincoln wrote: “In the present civil war it is quite possible that God’s purpose is something different from the purpose of either party. . . . I am almost ready to say this is probably true—that God wills this contest, and wills that it shall not end yet.”

Added the author: “Throughout the history of the world, what commander-in-chief would dare say such a thing? Yes, it is easy to argue that your enemy is wrong—but to suggest that your own side is also wrong? To suggest that God is doing this awful thing to both sides for some purpose heretofore unknown? It was like something out of the biblical account of ancient Israel or the Book of Mormon. What was he thinking?”

“Days after the news of the Union victory at Antietam arrived at the capital, Lincoln called an emergency cabinet meeting. He knew what he now needed to do. He had covenanted with God, and God had responded. It was September 22, 1862. The president marched into that meeting and boldly declared that “his mind was fixed, his decision made.” It was clear to all present that any objection to his call for emancipation would be immediately dismissed. The president told his cabinet not to bother him over “the main matter—for that I have determined for myself.”21 He then laid upon the table a sacred document: the preliminary draft of the Emancipation Proclamation.”

In an emotional state, Lincoln then declared unequivocally that “God had decided this question in favor of the slaves.”

Chapter 9: Lincoln’s Third Holy Field: The Book of Mormon

Lincoln had The Book of Mormon from November 1861 to July 1862. According to the Library of Congress ledger, the book was out for more than eight months. “Why did he keep it so long? Well, we should ask ourselves what was going on in Lincoln’s life during those eight months. Those very months marked what he called his “process of crystallization,” even those months of his life that have been described as his “Damascus Road Experience.” He had the book when Willie died, when he met Nurse Pomroy—yes, he had it precisely when he found God and turned the nation over to Him. Now get this: he turned the very overdue book back to the Library of Congress on July 29, 1862, a mere seven days after he submitted the first draft of his Emancipation Proclamation to his cabinet.”

“The president then asserted that God “now wills to remove” slavery from the land and He is doing so through hurling the devastations of “this terrible war” to affect “both North and South.””

Said Lincoln. “If God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said, ‘The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’”

Said Lincoln: “We hoped for a happy termination of this terrible war long before this; but God knows best, and has ruled otherwise. We shall yet acknowledge His wisdom and our own error therein. Meanwhile we must work earnestly in the best light He gives us, trusting that so working still conduces to the great end He ordains. Surely He intends some great good to follow this mighty convulsion, which no mortal could make, and no mortal could stay.”

Chapter 10: National Repentance

Lincoln declared “that “the Almighty has his own purposes” for the war. Of course, Lincoln grew to understand what that purpose was. It was exactly what the Lord declared it to be: a vexation and scourge to “set his hand and seal to change the times and seasons” (D&C 121:12). Or, in Lincoln’s own words, the war came from God for “the needful end of our national reformation as a whole people.””

“As the war produced Union defeat after Union defeat, what else could be said except that, as Lincoln increasingly began to point out, “the North as well as . . . the South, shall pay fairly for our complicity in that wrong [the national sin].”11 The North and the federal government had, after all, watched and done nothing as the sins of oppression hit the innocent minorities—from black slaves to Mormon settlers.”

“If the war had ended early—with either Southern subjugation (a quick Union victory) or Southern independence (a quick Southern victory)—the North would have remained unchanged. The United States would have remained unchanged. The kingdom of God would have been left with the same weak application of the Constitution, which weak application was responsible for the Church’s frustrated growth and ultimate exile.”

“Something else also hung in the balance—the Restoration. The Church would need liberty to usher the gospel in to every corner of the earth. If America had failed here, if it had proved that a republic could not survive in the end, then budding republics the world over might have lost hope. Tyranny might have gained a stronger foothold throughout the nations of the world, and the proliferation of the Restoration might have been stymied. Lincoln himself declared as much: ‘[This civil war is] an important crisis which involves, in my judgment, not only the civil and religious liberties of our own dear land, but in a large degree the civil and religious liberties of mankind in many countries.'”

“Secretary Chase perpetuated it with a statement of his own to the director of the U.S. Mint at Philadelphia: “Dear Sir: No nation can be strong except in the strength of God, or safe except in His defense. The trust of our people in God should be declared on our national coins.” And so it was by 1864. IN GOD WE TRUST was later made, by an act of Congress, the national motto of the United States. The covenant had been invoked once again.”

Chapter 11: A Fight between Heaven and Hell

“If the North could not emerge victorious, the cause of the Restoration would be severely hampered. And this is why: A people cannot support and love a system that enslaves an entire race and not see the effects of such evil spill out in other areas of life. Yes, Southern intent was even darker than the preservation of slavery. Why? Because the ability for the South to enslave blacks provided the justification to do the same to any other group—and Mormons were that other group. The kingdom of God on earth was that other group.”

“In the end, the war was fought over the existence of a social order. It was a fight to determine whether the promised land of America would or would not continue to maintain a system wherein one group dominated at will any other group it desired to rule. The North was right because (eventually) it began fighting against oppression of the human spirit, and oppression of the human spirit has been Satan’s plan from the beginning.”

“One Missourian summed up the spirit in that state accurately when he announced that Mormons should not have civil rights, “no more than the negroes.” The Missouri mobocrats declared, “Mormonism, emancipation and abolitionism must be driven from the state.” This was the Southern cry. It was the opposite of God’s designs for America. It countered Lincoln’s new intention for the war. It directly challenged the American covenant.”

“It was Lincoln’s policy throughout the war to allow captured rebels to take the “oath of allegiance” to the Union and the Constitution, thereby setting themselves free from Union bondage. Lincoln explained that such oaths embodied “the Christian principle of forgiveness on terms of repentance.” Though officials in his administration might have thought this a strange practice, it would not have been strange to one who had read the Book of Mormon. For Captain Moroni did the same.”

Chapter 12: Answering the Critics

“I will concede that other nations have been able to eradicate slavery without a war. But I would ask the critic the following questions about those other nations: Were they large ­agricultural nations whose slave populations were growing rapidly, jumping from 800,000 to 4,000,000 in just two generations?15 Did those other nations have a rebel/separatist government recently created whose purpose was to preserve slavery at almost any cost? Did they have temples of God in their lands that were being destroyed, confiscated, and burned? Did they have prophets of God in their lands who were being shot and killed?”

“Not only had more than four million slaves been added to the forced-labor rolls in just two generations, but a mere four years before Lincoln took office, slavery had received further bolstering from the Supreme Court decision in Dred Scott (1857). Black Americans, declared the Court, even free ones, “are not included, and were not intended to be included, under the word ‘citizen’ in the Constitution.””

“The modern-day critics do not have to deal with the ugly fact that one-third of slave marriages ended in a greedy business decision by the master, and over one-half of all slave children lost at least one of their parents (and many times both of their parents) for the same reason.”

“William Seward had his moment of clarity, and he manifested it in a speech he gave… “There is a higher law than the Constitution, which regulates our authority over this domain, and devotes it to the same noble purposes. . . . Does it therefore follow that Congress may amend the ten commandments, or reverse the principles of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount . . . ? Man could not, by any law, make right what God and his own conscience declared wrong.””

“What they need to understand is that the “states’ rights doctrine” of today (something that actually needs to be strengthened in the land) is not the same as it was in Joseph Smith’s or Abraham Lincoln’s America. Please understand this: The “states’ rights doctrine” of their day was destroying the Church and the purposes of America. The “states’ rights doctrine” served to protect an evil social order. God had placed Lincoln under orders to destroy that evil. So he did it. He did it by employing Joseph’s provision, or, in other words, the Civil War amendments.”

In 1820, just months after Joseph’s First Vision, the elderly Thomas Jefferson declared that “if the freedom of religion, guaranteed to us by law in theory, can ever rise in practice . . . truth will prevail . . . and the genuine doctrines of Jesus, so long perverted by his pseudo-priests, will again be restored to their original purity.”

“Blinded by their preconceived political agendas, and ignoring both scriptural and historical evidence, critics continue to frame the war as North: oppressors of states’ rights, versus South: noble freedom fighters. All evidence points in the opposite direction. It was, in actuality, North: bearers of the covenant blessings of liberty, versus South: preservers of a state’s right to rule with blood and horror over the innocent—to legally enslave a race and to legally issue an extermination order against the Saints of God.”

Chapter 13: Brigham, Lincoln, and the Dispatch

“Within weeks of Abraham’s entering his “process of crystallization,” indeed, within weeks of his ordering up a copy of the Book of Mormon, we see the Saints break from their neutrality. On October 18, 1861, Brigham Young sent a telegram to the eastern states drawing a line in the sand and choosing sides once and for all: “Utah has not seceded,” he proudly declared, “but is firm for the Constitution and laws of our once happy country.””

Chapter 14: The Gettysburg Prayer

Lincoln recounted: “In the pinch of the campaign up there [at Gettysburg] when everybody seemed panic stricken and nobody could tell what was going to happen, oppressed by the gravity of our affairs, I went to my room one day and locked the door and got down on my knees before Almighty God and prayed to Him mightily for victory at Gettysburg. I told Him that this war was His war, and our cause His cause. . . . And I then and there made a solemn vow to Almighty God, that if He would stand by our boys at Gettysburg, I would stand by Him. And He did stand by your boys, and I will stand by Him.”

“If the North failed now, the rest of the world would be able to maintain their long-held belief that self-government and the pure liberty it provides is not possible. Indeed, it was a test to see if our nation or any nation so conceived . . . can long endure. If it could, democracy would be emulated and would grow, and the gospel would find safe haven throughout the world. If not, Satan would chalk up a victory against righteousness.”

“Lincoln often said the same thing—that this civil war is “an important crisis which involves, in my judgment, not only the civil and religious liberties of our own dear land, but in a large degree the civil and religious liberties of mankind in many countries and through many ages.” On another occasion, he declared that in this war “constitutional government is at stake. This is a fundamental idea, going down about as deep as any thing.””

“One minister from Gettysburg confirmed the national sentiment: “The deadly war that is now waging, is, on the one hand, the price we are paying for past and present complicity with iniquity.”

“As Lincoln stood to leave General Sickles’s bedside, the general related that “Mr. Lincoln took my hand in his and said with tenderness, ‘Sickles, I have been told, as you have been told perhaps, that your condition is serious. I am in a prophetic mood today. You will get well.’” And he most certainly did.”

“There is something about Helaman that reminds me of Lincoln and his Gettysburg experience. Perhaps it was Lincoln’s continued reference to the Gettysburg soldiers as “your boys.” Helaman, you will recall, repeatedly called his young stripling warriors “my two thousand sons,” “those sons of mine,” “my little sons” (Alma 56:10, 17, 30). The same tenderness was there. Or perhaps it was the heavenly assurance Lincoln received prior to the Gettysburg victory—God told him the North would win. Similarly, God told Helaman that his sons would see victory in their battle.”

Chapter 15: The Hymn

“the inspired words [Julia Ward Howe] wrote concerned all we have discussed about the true meaning of this war. You know these words already, for you have heard them countless times. They are the words that became the lyrics to the famous “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” But after truly understanding what God revealed through her, you will never be able to sing that hymn the same way again. You will not be able to sing it without the Spirit testifying to you about the truth behind Lincoln, Joseph Smith, the war, and the covenant on this land.”

Chapter 16: The Fall and Rise of Richmond

“As Lincoln reached the landing at Richmond, the unexpected occurred. Almost immediately, he found himself surrounded by a growing group of now freed black men, women, and children who shouted, “Bress de Lord! . . . Dere is de great Messiah! . . . Glory Hallelujah!” The former slaves then, one by one, began falling on their knees before Lincoln in deep respect and emotion. Lincoln, himself now becoming shocked and emotional, pleaded with the group, saying, “Don’t kneel to me, that is not right. You must kneel to God only, and thank him for the liberty you will hereafter enjoy.” The newly freed then stood, joined hands, and began to sing a hymn of praise to God. The streets, which up until that point had been “entirely deserted,” became alive with happiness and jubilee as black people all around began “tumbling and shouting, from over the hills and from the water-side.” One witness reported to Lincoln that he had seen an elderly, white-haired former slave exclaim, “Massah Linkum, he eberywhar. He know eberyting. He walk de earf like de Lord!” Upon hearing this, Lincoln became silent for several moments, then solemnly stated, “It is a momentous thing to be the instrument, under Providence, of the liberation of a race.””

“[Lincoln] seemed to love that phrase, “instrument in the hands of God,” and used it on a number of occasions. My curiosity compelled me to do a word search. Perhaps that glorious phrase was in the Bible. But it was not—not one reference there. You know where I went next . . . I ran the same check against the Book of Mormon. Stunning. No fewer than a dozen times did that phrase appear.9 I suppose it makes sense that Lincoln, in his quest to make and keep the American covenant, would use words from the book that does more than any other to testify of that covenant.”

Chapter 17: Upon the Altar

Historian William J. Wolf wrote: “Lincoln is one of the greatest theologians of America—-not in the technical meaning of producing a system of doctrine, certainly not as the defender of some one denomination, but in the sense of seeing the hand of God intimately in the affairs of nations. Just so the prophets of Israel criticized the events of their day from the perspective of the God who is concerned for history and Who reveals His will within it. Lincoln stands among God’s greatest latter-day prophets.”

“Compare these circumstances [of Lincoln’s death] to the death of Joseph Smith. Two men of the same generation (born just a few years apart), both came to earth in extremely humble circumstances, both became unlikely national figures, both were sustained by God, both saw the national sin and called the people to repentance, both foresaw their imminent murders, both were cut down in their prime by assassins’ bullets, and both were buried in Illinois.”

Lincoln biographer Richard Carwardine wrote: “Lincoln’s religious credentials and role as liberator of an enslaved people cast him as a latter-day Moses (though one who had freed even more slaves than the Old Testament leader, ‘and those not of his kindred or his race’).”

“Poor Lincoln had a tough go at that election. Lincoln had promised God that he would not end the war before he could eradicate the evil. This placed McClellan in a fortuitous position. While he could promise that if he were elected, the soldiers would go home to their families, Lincoln had to admit that if he were elected, the soldiers would likely have to die—for he would not give up the ship. How do you win that election? You pray!”

“First on September 10, 1864, then again on October 20, 1864, Lincoln called for days of national fasting, prayer, and thanks­giving. Lincoln dedicated these sacred days in a public proclamation to “our Heavenly Father” in the hopes for “an ultimate and happy deliverance” and the triumph of “the cause of freedom and humanity.””

“Then the miracle followed. Lincoln got the soldier vote. Eighty percent of those who suffered the most voted to keep their commander-in-chief, knowing that such a vote would keep them on the bloody battlefield until victory was achieved, which would mean they were quite possibly voting in their own death warrants. It was an amazing testament to the converted state of the North.”

“If Abraham was a type or shadow of Joseph, then Seward was his Hyrum. The elder brother sent to comfort, aid, and be there when nobody else would or could. The unheralded who did not want to be heralded. The unsung hero, who did not believe he was a hero but only wanted to serve God’s burdened servant.”

Chapter 18: For We Shall Meet Again

Union soldier Sullivan Ballou wrote: “O Sarah! if the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the gladest days and in the darkest nights, advised to your happiest scenes and gloomiest hours, always, always, and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath, as the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by. Sarah do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for thee, for we shall meet again.”

“Stated Washington, so long as there exists in the land a “Supineness or venality of [the] Constituents.” In other words, so long as we the people remain lethargic, apathetic, and uncaring about our responsibilities, we will lose the covenant blessings. All the while, according to Washington, “those who are entrusted with the management of this government . . . [will] overleap the known barriers of the Constitution and violate the unalienable rights of humanity.” Does this sound like America today? Boundless governmental ambition? Corrupted morals? Apathetic citizens? An ignored Constitution? The loss of unalienable rights? How long will we let America continue to sink? Will we learn the lessons God left for us in the history of the Civil War?”

“I pray we will take our cues from Washington and Lincoln, who learned the secret and masterfully employed it. I pray we will turn America back to its God! Turn America back to its covenant!”