Tuesday, June 27, 2006

thoughts on things taught in church last sunday - part 1 - the gift of free agency

(i was originally planning on writing this on sunday, but it had to be post-poned due to the whole mkh ordeal)


during my elders quorum meeting on sunday, the teacher got up and began his lesson saying that he wanted to have a deep discussion without the standard answers. as everything i said was quickly ignored, i soon realized that what he meant was that he wanted deeper standard answers as opposed to shallow standard answers. this will be the first of a few short things i wanted to say, but was kept from saying.

"our greatest gift from god is the gift of free agency"

free agency is as much of a gift to humans as being able to blow air is a gift to fans. by this i mean that free agency is not a gift to humans... it is part of what it means to be humans. just as being able to blow air is part of what it means to be a fan. you just can't seperate the two. satan wasn't trying to remove free agency. he isn't that stupid.

"laws are required for us to have free agency"

laws are not requisite for free agency. when i wake up in the morning and get dressed, i get to freely choose whether or not i'm going to wear a blue, green, or black shirt. no laws about what color shirt i should wear are needed for me to have this choice. the distinction that needs to be made is between free agency and moral agency. while the former is just about choices in general, the latter deals with the type of choices which can be made.

"free agency doesn't exist because the phrase 'free agency' is not in the scriptures"

that's just stupid. if i have to explain why, then you won't get it anyways.

"free agency doesn't exist because it means that we can do whatever we want without consequences"

no it doesn't. i can freely shoot myself in the head if i want. that does not mean that i can choose to do it without dying.

"free agency (moral agency) requires consequences - without the commandment's of god there is complete hedonism"

ok, nobody said hedonism - i doubt they even know what it means. i believe teacher used the ol' "eat, drink, and be merry." either way, you'd be surprised by how many times people acceptingly said contradictory things... or maybe that isn't too surprising. as slightly discussed in steve m.'s blog, there is a false dichotomy that's often expressed that a person must either fear punishment from god or live in sin. believe it or not, there are many athiests out there that are very moral - that do things because they believe it is right, even without the iron fist of god hanging over them.

7 comments:

  1. I really like this post (with the possible exception of the bitter sounding title).

    I think you are perfectly right about agency being inherent in human nature. Elder Neil Maxwell spoke often about agency as the only thing that is uniquely ours. We can, however, thank God for providing us with opportunities to exercise agency- creating the universe (including our spirits). To extend your analogy, like providing atmosphere for the fan to blow air.

    I find the Brethren's changing usage of the term 'free agency' interesting. When I was growing up, I remember hearing it spoken of in precisely those terms: 'free agency'. Later on, 'free' was dropped- most likely to avoid the strange ideas that 'free' connotes (look no further than statements 3 or 4). Lately, the Brethren have been using 'moral agency' much more frequently, for exactly the same reason that you distinguished between the two. It is really just an issue of semantics- always referring to the same thing- but changing it to emphasize what 'agency' really means.

    Laws aren't necessary for agency, opposition, as in options, is.

    Finally, your last point addresses the second half of the statement- I think the first half is solid doctrine. Many of God's commandments are based on eternal Truths (others are just to see if we'll obey him). People can abide by eternal Truth without knowing they are following commandments.

    Thanks for letting me throw in my ten cents.

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  2. free agency is not a gift to humans… satan wasn't trying to remove free agency. he isn't that stupid.

    “… Satan rebelled against me, and sought to destroy the agency of man, which I, the Lord God, had given him…” saying, “…here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it…” To me this could mean one of two things: the popular idea that Satan was going to come to earth and force everyone to do God’s will, or that he would let people do as they pleased, but redeem them all anyway. I personally believe the latter. I don’t think Satan (or God, for that matter) is stupid enough to try the first. Oh, and this scripture makes it clear that agency was given to humans by God… more on that later.

    “free agency (moral agency) requires consequences”

    I agree with your quorum on this one. If Satan wasn’t going to force everyone to be good, then agency has to be more than just the ability to choose for oneself. I think it’s a choice with a consequence affixed (eternal if not immediate.) If this is the case, all Satan would have to do to destroy our agency is remove the consequences of our misdeeds. Makes sense why 1/3 of the hosts of heaven would go for his plan.

    “laws are required for us to have free agency”

    I agree with this one too. Absence of law makes consequence obsolete, even if that law is just a law of nature such as death following a bullet through the head.

    “free agency doesn't exist because it means that we can do whatever we want without consequences”

    I really don’t know what they meant by that. But it’s true that agency really isn’t very free. “Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh… they are free to choose liberty and eternal life… or to choose captivity and death…” (2 Nep 2: 27) There are several similar scriptures throughout the BOM. So here’s our choices: Obey God and receive everlasting happiness i.e. he lets you into his kingdom, or defy him and receive everlasting misery. That’s not much of a choice. God allows us the ability to choose, but he controls the consequences (hence giving us our agency.)

    many athiests out there that are very moral - that do things because they believe it is right, even without the iron fist of god hanging over them

    Very true. I like to think that I do too, but it’s hard to say since I was raised on heaven and hell.

    P.S. Sorry this is so long, it takes a while to disagree with you :)

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  3. Quick note: I realize that every point I just made presupposes an unprovable point, that is, Satan planned only to remove consequences. This isn't a new idea, just a more obscure one. However, I can find no scriptural or doctrinal evidence to support the idea that Satan intended to force our choices. As far as I can tell the idea is based solely on tradition, propagated by endless mindless sunday school answers, so I have no qualms about discarding it. There is, on the other hand, LDS doctrine which claims that Satan is unable to force our choices. It seems consistent to me that this was always the case.

    Also, don't interpret this post as being negative toward agency. I think it's a great thing, but that's another subject.

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  4. russ,

    We can, however, thank God for providing us with opportunities to exercise agency- creating the universe (including our spirits). To extend your analogy, like providing atmosphere for the fan to blow air.

    well put. basically, the gift of agency is the gift of life. they are one and the same.

    Lately, the Brethren have been using 'moral agency' much more frequently, for exactly the same reason that you distinguished between the two.

    they have been using moral agency more often. however, i have too often heard the *brethren* equate free agency with moral nihilism and choices without consequences. both of those definitions are very problematic (if not plain wrong).


    becca,

    i had a chat with a friend about the very things you brought up today and had an epiphany of sorts. the thesis is pretty controversial and i think i'm going to write it up more clearly.

    to make it short here is the thesis and the main points to my idea.

    t - the church's rhetoric encouraging people to follow god to achieve glory or avoid punishment is satan's plan put into effect.

    -free agency can't be removed (you can choose what color shirt to wear)
    -free agency can be greatly hindered/reduced (i can put a gun to your head and tell you to wear a blue shirt - or i could offer you a million dollars to wear a blue shirt)
    -satan can't remove free agency
    -satan tries to reduce free agency
    -satan's plan was to 'force' people to make certain choices through fear of punishment and rewards of celestial glory
    -in the temple narrative, satan is basically portrayed as the jealous prince, even after the war in heaven, trying to prove to his father that he can still put the plan into effect.
    -satan's plan is still in some effect when people are pressured to act in fear of punishment or hope of rewards, instead out of because the moral rightness of a thing.

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  5. -satan's plan was to 'force' people to make certain choices through fear of punishment and rewards of celestial glory

    How is that Satan's plan? That sounds more like the plan that was accepted. Of course God isn't going to "force" us either way, but when your options are everlasting damnation or eternal glory, there's a pretty strong pull toward obedience. Satan never needed to use that pull because he was going to redeem us all anyway, presumably whether we wanted it or not.

    Anyhow.. I think your thesis is interesting, but I don't think it really represents the doctrinal or cultural rhetoric of the church. I'm interested to see how it writes up though.

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  6. Maybe you could get more readers, if you didn't scare them off with your titles.

    You make very valid and good points that are not offensive to members...but many members won't read the articles, just because of the titles.

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