President Gordon B. Hinckley passed away the evening of January 27, 2008 due to causes incident to old age. He was 97 years old. Many have shared their thoughts and feelings regarding his passing. His influence on my life was not insignificant. In many ways, he represented the Church like no one else did in my formative teenage years. His faith, his testimony, his manner, his humor, his love, his authority, his spirtuality, his self-deprecating wit, and his leadership have affected and will continue to affect me in many areas of my life.
I decided to do a search on Google News yesterday to see how many hits I would get for President Hinckley. I decided to search for other terms, to compare and contrast. I have organized the terms roughly into four groups: people, entertainment, traditional news-worthy items, and religion.
Stats taken the afternoon of January 29, 2008:
190,233 “President Bush”
123,375 “Hillary Clinton”
117,864 “Barack Obama”
84,015 “John McCain”
79,209 “George Bush”
78,022 “Mitt Romney”
30,975 “Ron Paul”
23,940 “Britney Spears”
16,570 “Heath Ledger”
6,261 “Paris Hilton”
1,687 “Gordon Hinckley”
1,441 “Gordon B. Hinckley”
1,171 “Dalai Lama”
244 “Glenn Beck”
8,896 “American Idol”
71,036 “Super Bowl”
23,504 “Rock Music”
16,570 “Pop Music”
41,602 “Al Qaida”
23,552 “Al Qaeda”
22,012 “War on Terror”
4,162 “Mormon Church”
Notice that President Hinckley gets about 3.7 times fewer news stories than the ever important Paris Hilton, roughly ten times less than Heath Ledger, and about 14 times less than Britney Spears, apparently a news-worthy figure. Consider the value of a prophet, and how valued he is by today’s society.
I find it striking that roughly 218,000 stories related to entertainment, while only 33,790 related to religion. This supports the notion, held by many, and certainly by me, that the trivial pursuits of entertainment occupy a much dearer place in our hearts than God, or even some vague notion of spirituality.
Ours is a culture of transient decadence, materialism, and sensuality, with blatant disregard for things transcendent and spiritual. Contrast the impatient, nosy, over-the-top, “sound bite” culture of ours with the intense inward focused meditation associated with so many religious traditions. Despite all of the leisure time we have accumulated with our modern society, we choose to neglect our spirituality rather than nourish it. We by and large reject transcendence in favor of the transient; we embrace iconoclastic hedonism and forsake spiritual tradition; we seek the crass and carnal, and shun holiness.
False gods have crowded out any real God. As further evidence, return to the search results: the economy occupied over 315,000 stories, war nearly 250,000, and Iraq over 152,000. One can ask: who has done the crowding out: the false gods or our own selves?
In reality, these false gods have as much power over us as idols had over the children of Israel, or any other idol-worshipping group. We ultimately cede the power and the authority. We choose what and how we worship: the true and living God, our fears, the government, or the frivolous and transient pursuits of a decadent culture. What takes priority and precedence in our lives? What is ultimately important? What do we get up in the morning for? What do we occupy our time and our thoughts with?
What do we have faith in: man and his methods and amusements, or God and His ways and movements? What do we obey: our selfish desires, the wanton cries of a fallen world, or the commands of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? Everyday, we decide what to have faith in and what to obey. No one else makes this decision for us. We alone are completely responsible for our actions.
There is another question, and a legitimate one, that would plague the mind of any atheist or agnostic: why should I believe in God? Much can be said about reason, and the ways man may comprehend God intellectually. But the ultimate rationale, the ultimate Reason comes from religious experience and spiritual knowledge, that which can never be reasoned away, for while it comprises the intellectual, it wholly transcends it. Such wondrous knowledge is beyond the limiting reach of the skeptic. Only the pure, simple, child-like faith we are commanded to posses can transport us from the kingdom of this world to the Kingdom of God.
When I remember President Hinckley, and I reflect on the world we live in, I think of a voice, crying in the wilderness, admonishing us to prepare the way for our God. May we so live!