I feel like the last week and a half or more has been rather tumultuous and challenging for a lot of people for a variety of reasons (which honestly is probably true for any given time period). Sometimes it seems difficult to believe in the goodness of people. There’s even Jean-Paul Sartre’s oft-quoted adage (from No Exit)—“Hell is other people.”
There are days that this rings true for me. Sometimes people are just the worst. The absolute worst. Yet, I think a quote from the creative and wonderful Joss Whedon (that I’ve shared elsewhere recently) is a useful reminder here:
“Faith in God means believing absolutely in something with no proof whatsoever. Faith in humanity means believing absolutely in something with a huge amount of proof to the contrary. We are the true believers.”
Joss doesn’t believe in God, though I do, but his point about believing in humanity (which I strive to do despite all its efforts to pile on proof that such a belief is foolhardy) is poignant. I feel called to believe in humanity and its goodness. I think such a belief is at the core of becoming godlike. It strikes me as being related to the very essence of Mormonism. For as Joseph Smith said:
“[F]riendship is one of the grand fundamental principles of ‘Mormonism.’”
Friendship may be the key to divinity. As much as I’d love to be saved on my own, I think it is only as a community that salvation can truly take place. We need to work together. We need to care for one another. We need to mourn for those that mourn and comfort those that stand in need of comfort. I can mourn with myself, but that’s just mourning. There needs to be other people for me to mourn with. My understanding of the Gospel suggests that it cannot function in isolation, in a vacuum.
Another Joseph Smith quote (which is so radical and in-your-face and arguably snarky that I love it) seems relevant here:
“[L]et me be resurrected with the Saints, whether I ascend to heaven or descend to hell, or go to any other place. And if we go to hell, we will turn the devils out of doors and make a heaven of it. Where this people are, there is good society.”
One reading of this is that Joseph was so confident in the friendship of the Saints—their interpersonal relationships and connections with one another—that he believed the divine nature of that friendship would transform hell into a heaven. Man. That’s awesome, is what that is. It suggests that it’s far less about where you are than who you are with. The place is immaterial—true heaven, true divinity is found in our relationships with others (an encouraging thought for those of us who have wondered about the future state of our souls…).
A slightly less radical version of this is found in Doctrine and Covenants 130:2:
“And that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy.”
The assertion is that a key part of glory is our interactions with one another, the friendships that we build here. I was struck by a quote from Genius (2016), which I recently watched (probably not 100% accurate as I couldn’t find anything online and am recalling from memory):
“That man [Maxwell Perkins] has a genius for friendship and you squandered that.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald says this to Thomas Wolfe who at this point in the film has felt the need to move beyond Perkins, who had been his editor and arguably a key component in his success. The interactions show that there’s a genuine bond between Perkins and Wolfe and that both are hurt by the estrangement that takes place. I love the phrase “genius for friendship” and would be humbled to have such words attributed to me some day.
I need to do more to show care for those around me. To let them know that if they need help I am here. I try to do what I can and am probably not abysmal at this, but spend loads of time on my own, working, writing blog posts (like right now!), reading, watching movies (sometimes with other people), etc. I know there are people that need to be heard. People that need a friend. People that need to share a pizza. People that need some support at their concert.
And honestly, it’d probably be good for me. Who doesn’t need more friends?
I think friendship as a grand fundamental principle seems to require us to want all the human family to be our friends. A difficult task to be sure. I’m far from there. Yet, I think that’s the direction we need to move. All people are worthy of being our friends. Learning to build those friendships is divine.
Then perhaps we can transform this often hellish (yet beautiful), awful (yet stunning), frightening (yet inspiring) place into a heaven. One friend at a time.