Sunday, June 26, 2005

slave morality, legalism, repentance, freedom, love, and a testimony

i got a random text message yesterday morning from someone who had read much of what i have written here and over at this is a response to him, as well as some thoughts sprouting from conversations with my roommate as well as with another friend. they may or may not be related to previous posts that i have written about chastity and the atonement (which i may or may not represent my current views). it's rather long and poorly written, but i would appreciate any thoughts you may have on it. (private comments can be sent to loydo38 at ericsonhome dot net)


scenario 1:
i command my little brother to make me a sandwich and tell him it is the right thing to do. if he refuses to make me a sandwich, i'll beat him with a stick.if he obeys, then he will have the wonderful blessing of not being beaten. bobby thinks to himself, notes that he does not like being beaten, and makes me a sandwich.

scenario 2:
i command my little brother to make me a sandwich and tell him it is the right thing to do. if he obeys and makes me a sandwich, i'll give him ten dollars. if he refuses, then he doesn't get anything. bobby thinks to himself, notes that he likes getting money, and makes me a sandwhich.

both of these polarized, yet very similar scenarios are part of what i feel plague christianity and mormonism today; the former more with modern christianity (especially the evangelical strain), the latter with modern mormonism. this is what i call a slave morality. this is 'moral' decision making essentially being forced by promises of punishments and/or rewards. a person chooses to live chaste so that they won't have tp be punished with hell or chooses to be chaste so that they can recieve all the blessings in heaven. a person chooses not to lie, so that they won't have to burn in the fires of hell or chooses not to lie so that they may have their ocean-view mansion in heaven. by living and making choices based on personal consequences, a person essentially dissolves their moral freedom and becomes an amoral slave.

i know some of you are reading this and thinking to yourself, but wait! they still have their freedom. they are choosing to get a reward or avoid punishment! and that is exactly why i call this a slave morality. in the same sense, the african slaves of not too long ago had the choice of whether or not they wanted to do as their master ordered them. they could have disobeyed if they wanted, but we would hardly call them free.

scenario 3:
i command my brother to make me a sandwich and tell him it is the right thing to do. i don't mention any consequences. bobby thinks to himself, recognizes me as his fraternal and intellectual authority ;) and makes me a sandwich.

though there are no rewards or punishments in this scenario, the slave element remains. in each of these scenarios, making me a sandwich has no essential morality. it is not in itself right or wrong. it only has a value because i have said it does. bobby gives up his moral freedom when he decides to make me a sandwhich just because i told him to and because i told him it was the right thing to do. this is the slave morality taught to children when they sing the primary songs follow the prophet and keep the commandments. by absolving ourselves from our own moral judgements, we are becoming slaves to those who we allow to make those moral judgements for us.

now some of you think to yourselves, but this isn't about sandwiches! this is about commandments from god!!!! i have discussed the prophet/god issue elsewhere and don't want to get into it here. however, even if god were to somehow clearly and absolutely give us a commandment, our following it just because god said so, is just as amoral as my brother making me a sandwich just because i told him to (note - i said amoral not immoral, which is different - though i believe it is often, if not usually, immoral to act amorally). in either case, the person is choosing to follow someone else and not choosing for themselves.


after hours of pondering the commandments of god in his byu dorm, ammon johnson jumps out of his room. "i got it! i figured it out! we can take our girlfriends to vegas, get married, have sex all night, get it annulled the next day, and god can't lay a finger on us. i found a loophole in his commandments! yippee!!!

while this may be an extreme example, this points out another problem i see in modern christianity (particularly mormonism). legalism is what plagued the jews of christ's time and plagues much of institutional religion today. this is the notion that right and wrong can be prescribed by specific instructions and commandments and that god evaluates us and determines our salvation by how strictly we follow them. the sermon on the mount was a condemnation of this legalism. jesus basically taught us to forget about the laws and commandments and start living their underlying morals. too often people treat morality as if there was a list in heaven of all the commandments and god sits back and checks them off one by one as we keep or break them. morality becomes equated with the outward appearances instead of the inner motives.

furthermore, it seems that too many people have a hard time understanding the letter of the law and the spirit of the law. too often i hear the spirit of the law being described as the extra laws around the letter of the law. dozens of little rules concerning what can and can't be done on sundays are made under the guise of the spirit of the law. byu honor codes are similarly constructed. movie ratings, alcohol in cough medicines, chocolate, clothing, music, etc. are all limited under the guise of the spirit of the law. little laws created to protect us from the greater laws. the spirit of the law is quite the opposite however. the spirit of the law shouldn't be understood as further restrictions, but should be understood as the underlying morals of commandments. the spirit of the law should make us an active force in doing instead of a restrictive policy in not doing. once again this is the topic of christ's masterful sermon on the mount. if we can live the underlying morals, then there is no need to even have commandments. if we treat others as persons instead of objects to lust after, there is no need to worry about the law of chastity and what two people can or can't do.

what is the difference between byu security officers and byu coeds? when the security officers say stop, they mean it.

on the flipside, there are those who disregard any notion of the spirit of the law and and just think only about the letter. this is especially prevalent with sex and happy valley. certain lines are drawn, and as long as they are kept, everything is fine. levi-lovin', petting, and the works are all ok as long as the clothes stay on and there is no penetration. instead of the spirit of seeing others as persons, they continue to treat each other as fleshy objects for their personal gratification.


john 8
when jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?
she said, no man, lord. and jesus said unto her, neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.

alma 36
now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, i cried within my heart: o jesus, thou son of god, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death.
and now, behold, when i thought this, i could remember my pains no more; yea, i was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more.
and oh, what joy, and what marvelous light i did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!
yea, i say unto you, my son, that there could be nothing so exquisite and so bitter as were my pains. yea, and again i say unto you, my son, that on the other hand, there can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as was my joy.

to repent literally means to change directions. it's a change of heart. a new way of living. a recognition of the past and a new beginning. neither do i condemn thee: go, and sin no more. few, more beautifully powerful words, were spoken by jesus. he saw her heart. even if she had not really repented, jesus still did not condemn her. he recognized that repentance is a personal thing, and urged her to continue on. alma the younger's repentance is probably my favorite section in the book of mormon. like most of us, he found himself forced to see what he had done. however, he was not forced to repent. alma recognized how he had hurt others and felt like crap for it. in that moment of his struggle, he realized what he had done, and sought to be free of it. his freedom came in an instant. it wasn't a drawn out process. it wasn't a scripted plan of repentance. it was a personal change of heart. a recognized past and a new beginning.

the legalism of commandment keeping has carried forward into repentance in the church today. no longer a go and sin no more or a moment of forgiveness, repentance (especially for so-called abominations) is a drawn out process. if christ had followed the scripted repentance plan today, john 8 would have looked much different.

she said, no man, lord. and jesus said unto her, neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more and read the miracle of forgiveness, and don't take the sacrament for a year, and give me your temple recommend, and don't have any more callings, and we'll need to have a disciplinary council, and don't pray in church meetings, and do this for a year, and we'll see how you are then to see if god will forgive you or not.

alma the younger's beautiful account of his repentance would have been a list no more motivating than the lists of who begat who.

a while back, i erased most of the references to my disfellowshipment a few years ago. i screwed up. i did something wrong. it came crashing back at me and i felt like crap. a loving bishop helped me realize that what i had done was in the past. i had recognized what i had done and needed to move on. neither do i condemn thee: go, and sin no more. i loved my bishop. i felt so alive and happy. better than i had felt in a long time. i wanted to jump on the roof and tell everyone how awesome it felt. yes, it was that good. alma the younger's experience fit me perfectly.

then my bishop pulled out his church handbook of instructions. the church handbook of legalistic procedures. suddenly, my repentance wasn't good enough. i wasn't good enough. repentance, forgiveness, and freedom wasn't the instanteous experience alma the younger encountered. it had to be a long drawn out process. for a year, i was told that i wasn't good enough to hold a calling. i wasn't good enough to pray in meetings. i wasn't good enough to take the sacrament, or go to the temple, or participate with everyone else. i was tainted and needed to stay on the outside as an observer.

the beauty and power of repentance and forgiveness had been replace with a legalistic structure of set instructions, punishments, rules, and regulations.


2 nephi 2
wherefore, men and women are free
men and women are that they might have joy

as interesting as it is, i disagree with much of lehi's views of laws, consequences, and sin. however, i do i agree with him that we are free and that is the key to joy. if true joy and happiness are found in living morally, then true joy can only be accompanied with true moral living. as i have mentioned before, moral living does not consist of following laws and commandments. it's found in making actual moral choices. these are decisions that have to be made by oneself. this is the spirit of the law. the underlying motivation beneath the commandments. while outward appearances and actions can be forced, the inner motivations have to come from within. it's something personal. something that can't be judged by others. morality can only exist with real freedom.


john 13
a new commandment i give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.

where most of my post has been fairly analytic, this is where it ends. love. i don't know how to describe it. i don't know what exactly it is. love just is. the commandment of love can only be followed freely. a person cannot love because they were commanded to. they can't be forced to love. it has to come from within. this is the spirit of the law. every commandment should be understood as an extension of love. we need to love each other as persons. as children of god. as persons who have every right to life and happiness. it's the key to everything. love is what it means to be a christian. to be a disciple of christ. jesus was the exemplar of loving others. he showed how to love. if love could be personified, it'd be him. love is where joy is found. love is what the gospel is all about.


i'd like to bear my testimony that i know the church is true. i love my mom and dad and my brothers and sisters. i know that joseph smith is a true prophet. in the name of jesus christ, amen.

i used to have the simple testimony of a child. i don't anymore. i don't really have a testimony. there isn't really anything that i can say i know. however, there is something in my gut. i'm not sure what it is saying or what it means. beliefs are funny things, you can't just turn them on and off. they are just sometimes there or they sometimes aren't. we still live by our beliefs. whether it's the belief that someone is really a friend, the belief that some icecream will taste as good as it did the previous time, that a relationship will work out, that a person will overcome an illness, or that your alarm will go off in the morning, we live and act on out beliefs all the time. sometimes we beliefs turn out for the better, sometimes for the worse.

i believe that christ lived the life of love. the life we need to try to emulate. i believe in the atonement. i'm not exactly sure what it is, or what i believe about it, but something about it is still inside me. i know i said things quite to the contrary, but i believe in god. again, not sure who or what god is, but my gut says god is. i believe there is hope. that there is hope in religion and in the world. and, yes, i believe there is hope in the church. hope that the extra baggage and such that has over-burdened it can be lifted, and that the underlying gospel of love (which i believe is there) can free itself and be the basis of everything again.

i don't know exactly what awaits for me. i'm not sure where my spirituality will take me. i believe there is a place for a communal spiritualtity. however, i first need to strenghten my personal spirituality before i can even think about sharing it within a community of believers.


  1. Wow, Tyler, you rock. I think your ideas and experiences are insightful, refreshing, and honest. Thank you for taking the time to post them.

  2. i don't know exactly what awaits for me. i'm not sure where my spirituality will take me. i believe there is a place for a communal spiritualtity. however, i first need to strenghten my personal spirituality before i can even think about sharing it within a community of believers.

    Every once in a while political commentator Pat Buchanan refers to the "Slough of Despond" when talking about political issues. (I think he seems to think it is similar to the "malaise" which Jimmy Carter was said to harp on during the 1979 oil & economic crisis.)

    Anyhow, as Buchanan tells anyone who will listen, the "Slough of Despond" is in John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress, a book which is probably more quoted than read these days.

    What's important about the book to me is that it is NOT the story of how a society or a group of people struggled to find faith and figure out how to live. On the contrary, "The Pilgrim" actually leaves his family and town at the beginning of the story. His "Progress" or Journey is a solitary one. It is not one that can be made in groups--or even two by two or by families.

    Although there is a lot of flowery language (like "Slough of Despond") in it, I think Bunyan's work still can provide inspration to any struggling Pilgrims today.

    I hope your journey goes well, my friend!

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. Mmmmmm... sandwiches. I like sandwiches. Just kidding bro, I agree with a lot of what you said. We should all look at what motivates to do what we do.


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