Saturday, February 1, 2014

10 Most Influential People

After writing several essays and sending them out to several of my colleagues, my mother suggested that I write something about role-models or people who have influenced me. After thinking about it, I found that it was a fine idea.

So, I thought about all the people who have influenced me in my life and narrowed it down to ten people. In order for the people to make the list, they had to have been a person who greatly contributed to my thinking, was successful, original, and inspired people in general. I will state in naming these ten people a short bio of who they are, why they influenced me, and some quotes that I love of theirs. So let us begin:

1. Jesus of Nazareth

I suppose that most people are familiar with Jesus of Nazareth, and more than likely most people of the Christian faith would have him at the top of their list. For those unfamiliar with who he is, let me give a brief overview. Before he came to this Earth, he was known as Jehovah, and was the God of the Old Testament. In the meridian of time, he came to this Earth as Jesus of Nazareth, and was the Savior of mankind. He atoned for the sins of all so that we can be like him, if we follow his commandments. After being betrayed by one of his own, he was sentenced to death and crucified. Three days later, he rose again and became "the first fruits of them that slept." (1 Corinthians 15:20) The account of his life, ministry, and mission are found today in the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, The Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price, all which I consider to be inspired writings.

Jesus inspires me because he was the only perfect man who walked the Earth. While many good and great people walked the Earth before and after, Jesus only stands as perfect. His teachings would save and heal the world, if we would follow them. Even if I were not a Christian, I would still admire the teachings of Jesus and follow them, although I would not believe in his divinity. I know that he lives today, and that he loves us all.

"But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust."

"Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God."

2. Joseph Smith

Joseph Smith was a religious leader in the early 19th century, and the founder of the Mormon faith. He was born in Sharon, Windsor County, Vermont on December 23, 1805. In the year 1820 while trying to find the correct faith and seeking a remission of his sins, he was visited by God himself and the Lord Jesus Christ, the latter who counseled to the young Joseph to not join any existing faith and forgave him of his sins.

Later, the young Joseph was visited by an angel named Moroni, who was an ancient inhabitant of the North American continent. He told Joseph of an ancient record which contained the Gospel of Jesus Christ in its purity, and that Joseph was to be its translator. After being led to the record, Joseph translated it by the gift and power of God into the book known to us today as "The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ".

Throughout the rest of his young life, the young prophet translated other records, received many revelations from deity, founded a church, and built great cities. On June 27, 1844, Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were murdered in Carthage Jail, where they had been held on charges of destroying a printing press. He is held in high esteem among members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a mighty and great prophet.

Joseph Smith is a man after my own heart. He is an example to me that God does love his children and answers their prayers, and I was introduced to him while I was very skeptical of this view. He was brave, bold, intelligent, rational, and was still a normal person. His life was one of faith and trust and being instructed from above. I hope I can be like him one day.

"Never be discouraged. If I were sunk in the lowest pits of Nova Scotia, with the Rocky Mountains piled on me, I would hang on, exercise faith, and keep up good courage, and I would come out on top."

"Although I do wrong, I do not the wrongs that I am charged with doing; the wrong that I do is through the frailty of human nature, like other men. No man lives without fault."

3. Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson was an American founding father, the author of the Declaration of Independence, the author of the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, the founder of the University of Virginia, and the third President of the United States. He was born in Virginia, living the life of a southern planter. He was educated formally at the College of William and Mary, one of the few founders to be formally educated. A polymath and inventor, he spoke over 5 languages and was the architect of his mansion, Monticello.

A student of the era of enlightenment, he was a skeptic of organized religion, although he did believe in God.

Jefferson deserves the title of "Author of America". He was the man who gave us the Declaration of Independence, the first amendment, and founded the first university that was secular, a practice that all universities should adopt. More than anyone else, his writings and teachings framed what eventually became the Bill of Rights. Where would America be without Jefferson? The answer is there would be no America. Jefferson has been criticized lately for not being a Christian, and for having an affair with one of his slaves. However, these do not diminish the accomplishments he had and the great man that he was. I thank God every day for Thomas Jefferson, the greatest statesman of all time.

Thomas Jefferson's influence on me has been that most of my political views come from him. Ever since I was a child, I have been fascinated by this man and his work. I am convinced no man did more for this country than he, and he will be one of the first people I greet in post-mortality.

"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend"

"In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock."

4. David Hume

David Hume was a Scottish philosopher, economist, and historian. He, along John Locke and Bishop Berkley, are known within philosophy as "The Fathers of Empiricism", empiricism being the belief that knowledge is gained through sensory experience. Hume himself is known as the father of Skepticism, which was his great contribution in this field. His views influenced many fields of philosophy including logical positivism, utilitarianism, philosophy of science, cognitive philosophy, and many other branches of thought.

Hume's greatest philosophical works include "A Treatise of Human Nature", "An Enquiry of Human Understanding ", "The Natural History of Religion", and "Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion". Hume strove greatly to understand the science of man, and it is amazing how he saw so greatly into the future without the aid of modern science. As Paul said, Hume "saw through a glass darkly." (1 Corinthians 13:12)

I revere David Hume. He is my favorite philosopher, and what someone once said of Plato I say of Hume "He is the only philosopher; everything else is footnotes." I am sure some of my fellow philosophers will disagree but that is the beauty of philosophy.

I credit Hume for awakening me from a dogmatic slumber in religion and making me more skeptical of religious leaders in particular. For instance, before being introduced to Hume, I was a firm believer in the virgin birth. However, once Hume showed me that the virgin birth violated the natural order, I ceased to believe in it.

Hume had a very rational skepticism, which I think all people should have. He was not skeptical of all things, but he did ask questions until he got satisfactory answers. Chances are Hume would not like modern LDS leaders dodging of questions, and would be a critic of this. I can't say enough good about this man, and I look forward to talking with him hereafter.

"Heaven and hell suppose two distinct species of men, the good and the bad. But the greatest part of mankind float betwixt vice and virtue."

"He is happy whom circumstances suit his temper; but he Is more excellent who suits his temper to any circumstance."

"Which is more likely: that the whole natural order is suspended, or that a jewish minx should tell a lie?"

5. Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens was a British-American journalist and author. He was a contributing editor to Vanity Fair and a host of other famous magazines. Known for his polemical and contrarian attitudes, he wrote long pieces excoriating popular figures such as Mother Teresa (The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice), Henry Kissinger (The Trial of Henry Kissinger), Bill Clinton (No One Left to Lie To: The Triangulations of William Jefferson Clinton), and even God himself (god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything).

Hitch (as he was popularly called) was also a great orator and debater. He spent large amounts of time touring the world debating religious leaders, trouncing many of them. He drank and smoked heavily, which lead to his death in 2011 from esophageal cancer.

Christopher Hitchens is my favorite author and orator, has influenced my writing, and I cause me not be ashamed of being a contrarian and polemicist. He taught me that no one is above criticism, and that everything is open to debate. I also loved that Hitch was never offended, and was always sure of himself no matter what he did or said. I hope to carry that trait throughout my life. Like King Agrippa said of Paul "Almost though persuadest me to be a Christian", I say of Hitch "If it were not for the experiences I have had, though would persuade me to be an atheist." I miss you brother.

"Beware the irrational, however seductive. Shun the ‘transcendent’ and all who invite you to subordinate or annihilate yourself. Distrust compassion; prefer dignity for yourself and others. Don’t be afraid to be thought arrogant or selfish. Picture all experts as if they were mammals. Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity. Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake; the grave will supply plenty of time for silence. Suspect your own motives, and all excuses. Do not live for others any more than you would expect others to live for you." 

"I learned that very often the most intolerant and narrow-minded people are the ones who congratulate themselves on their tolerance and open-mindedness."

"To the dumb question, 'Why me?' the cosmos barely bothers to return the reply, 'Why not?'"

"My own opinion is enough for me, and I claim the right to have it defended against any consensus, any majority, anywhere, anyplace, anytime. And anyone who disagrees with this can pick a number, get in line and kiss my ass." 

6. Bill Maher

William "Bill" Maher, Jr. is an American comedian and political commentator. He is the host of the show "Real Time with Bill Maher" and had been the host of "Politically Incorrect"before that. He is known for his sarcastic attitude and his criticism of lack of knowledge in the electorate. He is known to eschew political labels, calling himself "practical". He is a staunch advocate of the legalization of marijuana, gay marriage, gun control, and a host of other progressive ideas.

Maher also does stand-up, and was voted the 38th greatest stand-up comedian of all time. He is also known to criticize religion, making the documentary movie "Religulous" in 2008.

Everyone loves someone who can make them laugh. Very few people who walk this Earth can do that for me, but Bill Maher is one of those people. I don't agree on many things with Bill Maher, but he has shown that people can disagree without being disagreeable, which is a wonderful trait to have. For instance, Maher is a very liberal , but he often has very conservative people on his show and is polite to their point of view. And while he is anti-religious, many of his friends are religious. He is a great example of tolerance

"Suicide is man's way of telling God, 'You can't fire me - I quit.'"

"Religion, to me, is a bureaucracy between man and God that I don't need."

7. Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin was an english naturalist and biologist. He is the author of the theory of organic evolution, which is outlined in his book "On the Origin of Species". He is recognized in the world of science as one of the greatest scientists of all time, although the religious general have disgust for him.

Darwin influenced me in much the same way that David Hume did; by awakening me from "dogmatic slumber". Like many Mormons, I was a creationist and believed that God created the Earth in six days. Upon discovering Darwin, I understand that the world is billions of years old and that there was death on this planet long before Father Adam inhabited it. I have now come to love science, which I hated before I discovered Darwin.

Contrary to the belief that one can not believe in evolution and believe that God created the world, I am modern evidence that you can believe both, and I thank Charles Darwin for that.

"A man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life."

"A man's friendships are one of the best measures of his worth."

"The highest possible stage in moral culture is when we recognize that we ought to control our thoughts."

8. Bruce R. McConkie

Bruce R. McConkie was an influential apostle within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Writing heavily on doctrine, he wrote classic books such as "Mormon Doctrine", "A New Witness for the Articles of Faith", and "The Messiah Series". While McConkie was very popular during his lifetime and is today, modern general authorities tend not to talk about doctrine and talk more about generic things, sometimes even going back on what Joseph Smith and others had earlier said.

McConkie was criticized in his lifetime for his style of preaching, since his style was very "this is the way it is, or you are a heretic". While it is true this was overbearing in some instances, is it not the role of an apostle to preach the doctrine and be confident in what he is saying?

I love Elder Mcconkie, and he is a large reason I am a member of the church. His knowledge of the doctrine of the gospel is second to none, and he would have truth and nothing else. I don't see this characteristic as much within the general authorities of today. None testify of Christ and Joseph Smith in the way he did.

As Thomas Jefferson is the father of my political views, Bruce R. McConkie is the father of my doctrinal views, as I side with him about 90% of the time. I disagree with him on his views of evolution, interracial marriage, and a few other things. But for the most part I am with him.

"“Now, the atonement of Christ is the most basic and fundamental doctrine of the gospel, and it is the least understood of all our revealed truths."

“People who study the scriptures get a dimension to their life that nobody else gets and that can't be gained in any way except by studying the scriptures. There's an increase in faith and a desire to do what's right and a feeling of inspiration and understanding that comes to people who study the gospel - and who ponder the principles, that can't come in any other way.” 

9. Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine was a political activist in the late 18th and early nineteenth century. He inspired the American Revolution with his pamphlet "Common Sense", which helped inspire Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence. He was a champion of reason, and was highly critical of religion. In his book "Age of Reason", he challenged the many of the claims of the Bible and advocated natural religion and deism, which I would advocate if I were not a Mormon.

One of Paine's best work was his "Rights of Man", where he discourses on the rights that all humans have, regardless of who they are and where they live.

Paine influenced me because he was a champion of reason and rationality. He taught me to think for myself and go where the evidence took me, not just listen to a person just because they had a title. I also credit Paine for his being outspoken about an opinion even when it was unpopular, something I do often now. And last of all, I credit Paine for influencing my anti-clerical beliefs.

"Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one."

"The most formidable weapon against errors of every kind is reason. I have never used any other, and I trust I never shall."

10. Adam Smith

Adam Smith was a Scottish economist, and perhaps the most influential mind in the world of economics. His book "The Wealth of Nations" is the the most heavily quoted book on economics and was owned by every founding father of the United States. Smith was an aggressive advocate of capitalism and the government staying out of economics. His theory of the "invisible hand of the economy" is one of the ideas that has spread to all fields of economics.

Jefferson is my political father, Hume my philosophical father, McConkie my religious father, and Adam Smith is the father of my economic philosophy. I have his book Wealth of Nations, and it is a fascinating read. It is amazing that a man so long ago could understand our problems today. I am a firm believer that all members of congress should have to read the book before entering office. God be thanked for Adam Smith, author of the American economy.

"The real tragedy of the poor is the poverty of their aspirations."

"Man is an animal that makes bargains: no other animal does this - no dog exchanges bones with another."

Some will say "But Tarik, you never personally knew any of these men!" Very much to the contrary. In my patriarchal blessing I was blessed to know that I was influenced by certain men in the pre-existence and that they would influence me here. I am sure I was acquainted with these men before, and I will renew that friendship hereafter.


  1. Quite an interesting list. I think it's a little odd that you juxtapose Jesus Christ with Christopher Hitchens, author, as you note, of "god is Not Great." How you deal with that juxtaposition is up to you though, and I think it's totally up to you.
    My favorite line: "After thinking about it, I found that it was a fine idea." This is a great use of your voice that drew me into the piece.

  2. Rather interesting group of men, and your rationalization of each one. I do not like Hitchens, as I believe he has done more to harm people's perspective of God that to do any good at all. Very well written.

  3. Bill Maher, Hume and Christ in the same list. That's quite impressive. I liked that you mentioned Hume would not like modern LDS Leaders, I often think of that when the church fails to really address an issue publicly for fear of being rejected. I miss the older prophets who would tell us how it is. Although Elder Holland definitely doesn't hold his tongue.

    1. It's hard to imagine Hume being a proponent of Bruce McConkie, though. It's one thing for apostles to "tell us how it is;" it's quite another for such men to overstep their bounds of authority and meticulously catalogue for the membership what their every last belief should be.

      Aside from his rigid personality and dogmatic philosophy, McConkie went directly against his own religion's organic tenets by penning the error-riddled "Mormon Doctrine." This attempt to creedalize the teachings of Mormonism was not something of which Joseph Smith would have approved. It bothered David McKay too, but not quite enough to put a swift end to it. And now, the damage is done--we have a membership too passive to think outside the box, too terrified to challenge unscriptural interpretations put forth by the Church. We defer to the manuals and handbooks with our questions, rather than the the spirit. And we pedal around and around on a spiritual cul-de-sac, unwilling to remove the training wheels the brethren so kindly provide for us.