Selected Teachings on
The Dangers of Foolishness

Quentin L. Cook (Quorum of the Twelve)

In the Gospel of Mark, the Savior enumerated some of the things that can defile man. He said:

“Out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders,

“Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness” (Mark 7:21–22).

Not only do these evils exist in our own day, they are accentuated in our day. Because of modern technology, some of them come directly into our homes.

When I was younger I wondered why the Savior included “foolishness” with other obvious evils.

With increased leisure time, the amount of foolishness has increased and in many instances is celebrated. As I am made aware of how some young people use the media and display themselves, the concept of foolishness being included by the Savior has more meaning to me. In our day, when a foolish YouTube posting will be on the Internet forever, it has additional meaning.

You have a great challenge in helping the rising generation identify that which is foolish in today’s world and make wise and appropriate decisions to avoid it. From the Greek dictionary in Strong’s concordance: the definition of the Greek word translated as “foolishness” in Mark 7:22 includes “senselessness” and “egotism.” It is derived from a Greek word meaning “mindless,” “stupid,” “ignorant,” “egotistic,” “rash,” or “unbelieving” (New Strong’s Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Greek Testament (1995), 16, words 877, 878; in The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (1990)).

Most of the scriptures that use the word imply lack of wisdom. These are all serious matters in their own right.

But I think there is an additional reason “foolishness” was included by the Savior with other, more serious conduct. Foolishness often accompanies and leads to more serious transgressions. Think of all the pranks of which you are aware and how many cross over the line of propriety and become coarse, indecent, raunchy, and smutty. For some time I have worried about the frivolous and immoral exhibitionism that is so prevalent in modern society. Celebrities, sports and movie stars, and participants on the Internet engage in conduct and set examples that are at the very least decadent. This is not surprising, since we have seen it again and again in the scriptures, from Sodom and Gomorrah to the destruction of the Nephite nation. But modern media often portray it as merely fun and games. This is especially true if the revelers give money to a good cause or participate in charitable work....

When there are so many needs in the world to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, spend wholesome time with our family and friends, house the homeless, feed the poor, heal the sick, improve the environment, love our neighbors as ourselves, then time spent in foolish endeavors is seen in its true light.

Obviously the foolishness I am speaking about does not include wonderful family time, recreation that renews us, and joyful interaction with friends and loved ones. In fact it is the polar opposite of the joyful and righteous activities that President Thomas S. Monson is encouraging for all of our youth. Providing settings for wholesome and uplifting interaction of young people is part of the antidote for the foolishness I have described.

Without dwelling on it in this talk, I also think there is a connection between a culture of fun and games and an emphasis on foolishness that, along with pornography and worldly pursuits, is one of the reasons that so many young people are delaying the eternally significant joys and responsibilities of marriage.

Foolishness in all its forms and the lack of wisdom it represents are serious issues in our own day. (Address to CES Religious Educators, February 27, 2009, Salt Lake Tabernacle)

Gordon B. Hinckley (President)

Altogether too many men, leaving their wives at home in the morning and going to work, where they find attractively dressed and attractively made-up young women, regard themselves as young and handsome, and as an irresistible catch. They complain that their wives do not look the same as they did twenty years ago when they married them. To which I say, Who would, after living with you for twenty years?

The tragedy is that some men are ensnared by their own foolishness and their own weakness. They throw to the wind the most sacred and solemn of covenants, entered into in the house of the Lord and sealed under the authority of the holy priesthood. They set aside their wives who have been faithful, who have loved and cared for them, who have struggled with them in times of poverty only to be discarded in times of affluence. They have left their children fatherless. They have avoided with every kind of artifice the payment of court-mandated alimony and child support. 

Do I sound harsh and negative? Yes, I feel that way as I deal with case after case and have done so over a period of time.  ("Our Solemn Responsibilities," Ensign, November 1991, p.49; emphasis added)

Joseph B. Wirthlin  (Quorum of the Twelve)

One’s faith should be consistent with the will of our Heavenly Father, including His laws of nature. The sparrow flying into a hurricane may believe that he can successfully navigate the storm, but the unforgiving natural law will convince him otherwise in the end.

Are we wiser than the sparrow? Often what passes for faith in this world is little more than gullibility. It is distressing to see how eager some people are to embrace fads and theories while rejecting or giving less credence and attention to the everlasting principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is distressing how eagerly some rush into foolish or unethical behavior, believing that God will somehow deliver them from the inevitable tragic consequences of their actions. They even go so far as to ask for the blessings of heaven, knowing in their hearts that what they do is contrary to the will of our Father in Heaven.  (“Shall He Find Faith on the Earth?,” Ensign, Nov 2002, pp. 82-83)

In spite of the teachings of the Church from its earliest days until today, members sometimes fall victim to many unwise and foolish financial practices. Some continue to spend, thinking that somehow the money will become available. Somehow they will survive.

Far too often, the money hoped for does not appear.

Remember this: debt is a form of bondage. It is a financial termite. When we make purchases on credit, they give us only an illusion of prosperity. We think we own things, but the reality is, our things own us.

Some debt—such as for a modest home, expenses for education, perhaps for a needed first car—may be necessary. But never should we enter into financial bondage through consumer debt without carefully weighing the costs.  (“Earthly Debts, Heavenly Debts,” Ensign, May 2004, p. 40)

James E. Faust  (First Presidency)

One of Mr. Hyde’s [of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde] deceptions is what some erroneously call “premeditated repentance.” There is no such doctrine in this Church. This may sound subtly appealing, but it is in fact pernicious and a false concept. Its objective is to persuade us that we can consciously and deliberately transgress with the forethought that quick repentance will permit us to enjoy the full blessings of the gospel, such as temple blessings or a mission. True repentance can be a long, painful process. This foolish doctrine was foreseen by Nephi:

“And there shall also be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry; nevertheless, fear God—he will justify in committing a little sin; yea, lie a little, take the advantage of one because of his words, dig a pit for thy neighbor; there is no harm in this; and do all these things, for tomorrow we die; and if it so be that we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God.” (2 Nephi 28:8)

Of all those who teach this doctrine the Lord says, “The blood of the saints shall cry from the ground against them.” (2 Nepni 28:10)  This is because all of our covenants must not only be received through ordinances but to be eternal must also be sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise (see  D&C 132:7). This divine stamp of approval is placed upon our ordinances and covenants only through faithfulness. The false idea of so-called premeditated repentance involves an element of deception, but the Holy Spirit of Promise cannot be deceived.  (“The Enemy Within,” Ensign, Nov 2000, pp. 44–46)

As a young man I served a mission to Brazil. It was a marvelous experience. One of the wonders of the world in that great country is Iguaçu Falls. In the flood season, the volume of water spilling over the brink is the largest in the world. Every few minutes, millions of gallons of water cascade into the chasm below. One part of the falls, where the deluge is the heaviest, is called the Devil’s Throat.

There are some large rocks standing just above, before the water rushes down into Devil’s Throat. Years ago, reckless boatmen would take passengers in canoes to stand on those rocks and look down into the Devil’s Throat. The water above the falls is usually calm and slow moving, and the atmosphere tranquil. Only the roar of the water below forewarns of the danger lurking just a few feet away. A sudden, unexpected current could take a canoe into the rushing waters, over the cliff, and down into the Devil’s Throat. Those foolish enough to leave the canoes to stand on these treacherous wet rocks could so easily lose their footing and be swept away into the swirling currents below.

I recognize that some of you think of yourselves as daredevils, ready to take on almost any challenge. But some of these excursions for excitement will inevitably take you down into the Devil’s Throat. The only safe course is to stay well away from the dangers of the Devil’s Throat. President George Albert Smith strongly cautioned, “If you cross to the devil’s side of the line one inch, you are in the tempter’s power, and if he is successful, you will not be able to think or even reason properly, because you will have lost the spirit of the Lord.”

Some of you young men may be letting others set your standards. You defend yourselves by saying, “Who said we shouldn’t do this or we shouldn’t do that?” There are so many shades of right and wrong that each of you has to decide where the line will be. I strongly urge you that if there is any question in your minds or hearts about whether your personal conduct is right or wrong, don’t do it. Each of us has moral agency, and the gift of the Holy Ghost will sharpen our impressions of what is right and wrong, true and false. It is the responsibility of the prophets of God to teach the word of God, not to spell out every jot and tittle of human conduct. If we are conscientiously trying to avoid not only evil but the very appearance of evil, we will act for ourselves and not be acted upon.

Much of what comes from the devil is alluring and enticing. It glitters and is appealing to the sensual parts of our nature. His message sounds so reasonable and easy to justify. His voice is usually smooth and intriguing. If it were harsh or discordant, nobody would listen, nobody would be enticed. Some of Satan’s most appealing messages are: Everyone does it; if it doesn’t hurt anybody else, it’s all right; if you feel there is no harm in it, it’s okay; it’s the “cool” thing to do. Satan is the greatest imitator, the master deceiver, the arch counterfeiter, and the greatest forger ever in the history of the world. He comes into our lives as a thief in the night. His disguise is so perfect that it is hard to recognize him or his methods. He is a wolf in sheep’s clothing  (“The Devil’s Throat,” Ensign, May 2003, p. 51).

Sometimes we make poor choices when we yield to peer pressure. Kieth Merrill had such an experience when he was a young man. He and his friends were diving from sheer rock walls at the East Canyon Reservoir, northeast of Salt Lake City. It inevitably turned into a teenage contest when one young man climbed up to the top of the dam and dived 50 feet into the deep water of the reservoir. The rest of the young men all went to the top of the dam and made the same high dive. One boy wasn’t satisfied with that, so he said, “All right, I’ll do one better!” He climbed 60 feet up the side of the cliff. Not wanting to be outdone, Kieth climbed up beside him. After the other boy had dived into the water and seemed to be all right, Kieth took courage and made his dive. The contest was now down to these two boys. Kieth’s friend then climbed up to 70 feet and dived. He came up from the water laughing, rubbing his shoulders and his eyes. He then challenged Kieth, “Well, are you going to do it?”

“Of course, I’m going to do it!” And everybody on the shore said, “Of course, he’s going to do it!”

So Kieth swam back to the shore and climbed up the rocks. He knew if he jumped from the same height of 70 feet that his friend would want to go higher, so he scrambled up 80 feet to the very top of the cliff. No one could go any higher than the top. As Kieth looked down, he was terrified to see the water so very far away. He had made a rash decision. It was not what he wanted to do nor what he felt was right. Instead he had based his decision on the prodding and dares of a half dozen young men whose names he cannot now even remember.

He backed up and ran as hard as he could toward the edge. He found the mark he had carefully laid at the edge of the rock and sprang out into space. On the way down he remembered his parents teaching him to be careful when making decisions, because a wrong one could kill him. And now he thought, “You have done it, because when you hit the water you’ll be going so fast that it might as well be concrete.” When he hit the water, it even felt like concrete. How grateful he was when his head finally popped above water.

Why did he jump? What was he trying to prove? The young men who dared him didn’t care and probably don’t even remember that foolish act. But Kieth realized afterward that he had made what could easily have been a fatal decision. He had yielded to the pressure of friends expecting him to do what he didn’t want to do. He knew better. He said: “I was living in the world, and at that moment I was of the world because I was not in control of myself. I was not making decisions about my own life. The world made the decisions for me, … and [I] had barely avoided being in the world about six feet deep.”

It takes a certain kind of courage to stand back rather than leaping forward, foolishly allowing someone else to make our choices for us. We can more readily take firm stands when we have a clear idea of our identity as sons of God and bearers of the holy priesthood, having a bright potential for a meaningful future.  ( “Choices,” Ensign, May 2004, p. 51)

F. Burton Howard (Quorum of the Seventy)

To excuse misconduct by blaming others is presumptuous at best and is fatally flawed with regard to spiritual things, for “we believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.” (A of F 1:2.) This not only means that we will not be punished for what Adam did in the Garden, but also that we cannot excuse our own behavior by pointing a finger to Adam or anyone else. The real danger in failing to accept responsibility for our own actions is that unless we do, we may never even enter on the strait and narrow path. Misconduct that does not require repentance may be pleasant at first, but it will not be for long. And it will never lead us to eternal life.

Just as foolish as believing that we can “pass it on” is the idea that the satisfaction of being in the circle, whatever that may be, can somehow excuse any wrongs committed there. This notion is widely shared and is most often expressed by the phrase, “The end justifies the means.” Such a belief, if left undisturbed and unchecked, can also impede the repentance process and cheat us out of exaltation.

Those who teach it are almost always attempting to excuse the use of improper or questionable means. Such people seem to be saying, “My purpose was to do good or to be happy; therefore, any little lie, or misrepresentation, or lapse of integrity, or violation of law along the way is justified.”

In certain circumstances, some say it is “okay” to conceal the truth, to dig just a small pit for an adversary, to pursue an advantage of some kind—such as superior knowledge or position—against another. “This is just common practice,” or “I’m just looking after Number One,” they say. “All’s fair in love and war,” or “That’s the way the ball bounces,” they say. But if the means which prompt the saying of these things are wrong, no amount of rationalization or verbal whitewash can ever make them right.

To those who believe otherwise, Nephi said: “Yea, and there shall be many which shall teach after this manner, false and vain and foolish doctrines, and shall be puffed up in their hearts, and shall seek deep to hide their counsels from the Lord.” (2 Ne. 28:9.)

Some seek to justify their actions by quoting scripture. They often cite Nephi’s killing of Laban as an example of the need to violate a law to accomplish a greater good and to prevent a nation from dwindling in unbelief. But they forget that Nephi twice refused to follow the promptings of the Spirit. In the end, he agreed to break the commandment only when he was convinced that “the Lord slayeth the wicked to bring forth his righteous purposes” (1 Ne. 4:13; italics added) and also (I believe) when he knew that the penalty for shedding blood had been lifted, in that one exceptional case, by Him whose right it is to fix and waive penalties.

The truth is that we are judged by the means we employ and not by the ends we may hope to obtain. It will do us little good at the last day to respond to the Great Judge, “I know I was not all I could have been, but my heart was in the right place.”

In fact, there is danger in focusing merely on ends. To some who did, the Savior said:

“Many will say to me in that day: Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name, and in thy name have cast out devils, and in thy name done many wonderful works?

“And then will I profess unto them: I never knew you; depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” (3 Ne. 14:22–23.)

The war in heaven was essentially about the means by which the plan of salvation would be implemented. It forever established the principle that even for the greatest of all ends, eternal life, the means are critical. It should be obvious to all thinking Latter-day Saints that the wrong means can never attain that objective.

The danger in thinking that the end justifies the means lies in making a judgment we have no right to make. Who are we to say that the Lord will pardon wickedness done to attain a perceived “greater good.” Even if the goal is good, it would be a personal calamity to look beyond the mark and fail to repent of the wrong we do along the way.  (“Repentance,” Ensign, May 1991, pp. 12-13)