|Illustration from Dante’s Divine Comedy
by Gustave Gore
In the October 1964 General Conference, Sterling W. Sill made this bold assertion:
“Certainly the greatest problem of our generation is its titanism, as shown by our enmity toward the Almighty.”
I have to admit that I had never heard of titanism prior to reading his talk (which immediately made it into my General Conference Classics file). In classical Greek mythology, the Titans were a race of giants with enormous size and strength that sought to rule heaven. They made war with Zeus and the other Olympians, but were ultimately defeated and thrown down. Titanism has therefore come to represent the tendency to be at defiance and revolt against tradition, convention and established order. Elder Still used titanism to represent “our unfortunate human inclination to fight against righteousness … [and wage] war against God and his purposes.”
The parallels between the War of the Titans and the War in Heaven (Revelation 12:3-14) are hard to miss. Similarly, we can’t make it through an entire day without being confronted by the ferocity with which the world takes the fight to the gates of Heaven. But Elder Still wasn’t talking to the world as much as he was talking to the church. The Church has always known it’s share of conflict from within; perhaps the most unlikely titans that battle God do so from within His Church.
With the Priesthood Session of General Conference just around the corner, battle lines seem to be forming once more. The Ordain Women movement seems determined to press it’s case, and the Church equally determined to hold the line. Not only was their petition for tickets denied, but their premise was labelled as “contrary to revealed doctrine”. They were asked not to protest, but given maps on how to find “free speech zones” if they insist on doing so.
Let me be clear that I am not redefining titanism as the OW movement or any other movement in the Church. Any attempt to compile a list of offenses constituting titanism would be presumptuous; it’s manifestations are highly individual anyways. Fundamentally, titanism is a state of mind that puts us at war with God on a individual level: our priorities become more important than God’s priorities. Though we may agree with Him on everything else, even one point of disagreement is enough–if we feel strongly enough about it.
Though his talk was given almost 50 years ago, Elder Still’s words resonate surprisingly well for us today (shades of President Benson’s Beware of Pride). As a result we may immediately think he was focused on [insert the vocal iconoclast you find yourself most at odds with here]. But after reading this talk I had my own Robert De Niro-talking-to-himself-in-the-mirror moment. I realized that he is talking to me. The rest of you might want to listen up as well. His words are not just descriptive of what ails us today, they also offer specifics on how to cure it:
“The greatest miracle ever performed by Jesus was not in controlling the angry sea but in disciplining his own will … What a tremendous benefit we could bestow upon ourselves by calling off the war and learning to live at peace with God, not only in obeying him but also in agreeing with him.”
God’s requirement that we surrender our will to His, is asking a lot. C. S. Lewis and Neal A. Maxwell have both weighed in on this with their usual eloquence. But though the Lord asks everything of us, He has promised us much in exchange.
Behold, the Lord requireth the heart and a willing mind; and the willing and obedient shall eat the good of the land of Zion in these last days. (D&C 64:34)
Periodically we all find ourselves in defiance with God. Though we may find ourselves surrounded by many like-minded souls, ultimately it’s how much we share in common with God the matters most. One of the first steps in creating a lasting peace with God is deciding to “lay down the weapons of [our] rebellion” (Alma 23:7) and surrender to God. It is not sufficient to just walk away like some Zerahemnah. The gesture must be accompanied with a willing mind and followed by humble obedience. This may take a while.