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The gospel offers
If we have faith in Jesus Christ, we soon learn that he calls us to be disciples. "Not my will but thy will be done." Not a popular message!
- Does this mean he controls us? No. We choose to follow him, and we can choose not to.
- Does this take away the need for initiative? No. He gives general principles, and lets us work out the details ourselves.
- Does this take away our freedom? No. We follow precisely because it increases our ability to make a difference (e.g. our freedom).
This page, like all pages on this web site, represents my personal understanding of the scriptures and the words of living prophets. It is not an official statement of church doctrine, though I believe it agrees with revealed truth. Judge for yourself.
Forcing your views on someone else
Please note that the church does not want to force its views on people. But it will do everything in its power to encourage people to choose a certain way. That is how it should be. Forcing does not work. For example, prohibition sought to ban alcohol, and it did not work because Americans did not want it banned. But if Americans had wanted to ban it, there would have been fewer murders, lower crime, stronger families, less abuse, more money, and more freedom. Sadly, Americans thought alcohol was more important than these things. They got what they wanted.
|Obedience to God brings freedom|
Obedience to the gospel is a sensible and rational use of freedom. Disobedience to the gospel is irrational, amd leads to less freedom. This is why.
"We believe that through the atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel." (Third Article of Faith)
Saved from what?
Saved from the results of sin - e.g. from death, pain, sorrow, frustration, captivity, etc. The gospel is really very simple. God wants us to be happy. He tells us how to be happy. We can choose to follow these rules or not. "There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated -- And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated." (D&C 130:20-21.)
"Every man, including the rebellious, who is honest with himself must admit that what he is ultimately seeking is happiness and a better way of life.
"Just the other day I was talking to young man who said, in effect, "I am fed up and tired of being told, `You have to do this,' or `You have to do that.' I want to be free to decide for myself what I want to do." My response was: "You are free to choose exactly what you want to do, as long as it does not restrict or impose on the rights or liberties of others, but you must be responsible for your acts, and prepared to take the consequences."
(These quotes are all from "The Blessings of Obedience" by N. Eldon Tanner, April General Conference, 1970)
These are just natural laws
We are all subject to physical laws. Do we complain that gravity is too strong? We are all subject to the laws of the country we live in. If these are good laws, they do us far more good than harm. Why complain? Good laws are good laws! Why not choose to be subject to rules that will do us the most good?
"All the laws of God and the laws of nature and the laws of the land are made for the benefit of man, for his comfort, enjoyment, safety, and well-being; and it is up to the individual to learn these laws and to determine whether or not he will enjoy these benefits by obeying the law and by keeping the commandments."
"To be a musician, to be an athlete, to get a degree, to accomplish anything worthwhile, we must set our goals, determine what we want to do and wish to accomplish, and set about to find out which laws if obeyed will make this possible, and then discipline ourselves in order to accomplish it. When we do this, we are on our way to success, while those who continually fight the laws and refuse to obey, and complain about things that are required, become frustrated, begin to rebel, and fail to accomplish."
Examples: How obedience brings freedom
"Thou shalt not steal," "Thou shalt not kill."
"If everyone would obey the commandments, "Thou shalt not steal, kill, covet, commit adultery, or bear false witness," we could leave our homes or properties unattended, walk down the street any place at any time, or feel secure in our homes, without fear of thieves or robbers, or that someone might be trying to take our lives. ... just think of the money we would save on law enforcement and the effects of crime, all of which money could be diverted to fighting poverty, or improving health and educational facilities, and for other worthwhile purposes. We cannot begin to number the temporal blessings we would receive from obedience to these commandments."
"The Word of Wisdom" (abstain from alcohol, tobacco, etc.)
"The use of these things results in broken homes, diseased and broken bodies and spirits, destruction of property, misery, and death on the highway, and many other tragedies too numerous to mention, all of which are now causing society, lawmakers, law enforcement officers, and all of us serious concern."
If anyone doubts that alcohol takes away freedom, just look at the statistics.
- "Alcohol is a key factor in up to 68 percent of manslaughters, 62 percent of assaults, 54 percent of murders/attempted murders, 48 percent of robberies, and 44 percent of burglaries"
- "In both animal and human studies, alcohol, more than any other drug, has been linked with a high incidence of violence and aggression."
- Alcohol and drugs are related to over one-third of all arrests in the U.S.
- One in four children are exposed to family alcohol abuse or alcoholism
- The economic costs of alcohol and drug abuse are estimated at $246 billion in the United States
- "The more beer sold in a postcode the higher its assault rate [and also] its recorded rate of malicious damage to property and offensive behavior. These effects exist even when controlling for other factors."
- Among jail inmates, 42.2 percent of those convicted of rape reported being under the influence of alcohol or alcohol and other drugs at the time of the offense.
- "Over 60 percent of men and 50 percent of women arrested for property crimes (burglary, larceny, robbery) in 1990, who were voluntarily tested, tested positive for illicit drug use."
- "In 1987, 64 percent of all reported child abuse and neglect cases in New York City were associated with parental alcohol (or other drug) abuse."
- "An analysis of 2,563 felony sexual assaults reported in one American city between 1992 and 1995 revealed that ... Alcohol and drugs were involved in 60-70% of the cases."
- "Rape victims are 10 times more likely to abuse substances such as cocaine and 14 times more likely to abuse alcohol."
- "One study found that 75% of the males and 50% of the females involved in college campus acquaintance rapes had been drinking when the sexual assault occurred."
- "95% of violent crime on Campus is alcohol or drug related."
- And I have not even mentioned the effect on the lives of individual alcoholics...
- or the numerous diseases associated with alcohol...
- or the time and money taken away from families when one partner spends time away drinking...
Choosing to avoid alcohol results in increased freedom.
Sources: National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, MCASA, Oasis, and research in New South Wales.
"Honor thy father and mother"
Consider parents who are treated like dirt by their kids, and end up shut away in an old folks home for no good reason. Is their freedom increased?
"Thou shalt not commit adultery"
Consider the number of relationships that are ruined by unfaithfulness. Remember the long term effect on children. Is this increasing the overall levels of freedom?
"Thou shalt not bear false witness"
How is anyone's freedom increased if our decisions are based on lies? Truth is essential to freedom.
"Thou shalt not covet"
Last week I was watching a CNN report on famine in Ethiopia. A asked myself, why do people not spend more time on finding a solution? At the very leastm why do we not send more money? Then the commercial break came and the answer was plain. Our whole system is built on coveting material goods. We are too busy thinking about expensive property to think about the poor and hungry. Is this increasing anyone's freedom?
And so on and so on.
Every commandment is designed to increase our freedom. Even the less obvious commands - believe in God, go to church, for example - are just designed to make us pay attention to the other commands. (The more complicated issues are dealt with further down this page.)
So obedience to God brings freedom. It is as simple as that.
What is freedom?
Freedom means the ability to do things. The more things you can do, the more freedom you have.
Freedom is not the same as agency. Agency means being an agent for somebody (such as ourselves). It means we have the right to choose on their behalf.
It is possible to have agency without freedom. For example, if I am alone in a desert, I have agency - nobody is going to stop me choosing whatever I like - but there is nothing to choose from, so I have no freedom.
It is possible to have freedom without agency. My car has great freedom - it can drive almost anywhere. But it is just a machine. It does not have agency. It can only be a tool of the person who drives it.
Human beings all have agency, because we can all choose what we want to do. Often we pretend we do not have agency. We blame others for our choices, or we say it is our genes, or our parents, or someone else's fault. But that is not true. These things do make some decisions more easy or more difficult, but we do the deciding.
How to get more freedom
Freedom - the power to do things - depends on two variables:
Knowledge is power. You can only get things done if you know what to do. If you have experience and understanding in some important area, you have a great advantage over someone who does not.
Each individual depends on others to play by the rules. For example, in a state of anarchy, having money means nothing. Or if people do not respect you, being head of an organization means nothing. Theone thing that business needs above all else is a stable government and a roughly predictable environment.
Two extreme examples of freedom are the president of the United States and a prisoner in some third world dictatorship. The president has great freedom because he has a massive organization behind him. He gets there (and he stays there) because he knows how the system works. But the prisoner has no freedom because their is no organized procedure for improving his conditions. His only hope is to have some knowledge (or sill) that will allow him to negotiate with his guards.
Local freedom and absolute freedom.
(Or, "How To Change The World.")
Freedom is defined as the power to do things. What kind of freedom does the most things?
In the short term, the answer is easy: Money! People with access to money can do all kinds of things right now. Short-term, they have the most freedom. But how much difference does that money make, long term? What difference does it make to future generations that you had a big house and a boat? At the time of writing, Bill Gates is the richest man in the world. Will that make any difference to the world a hundred years after he is dead? Probably not. It might make a difference that we still have the legacy of Microsoft products, but how much difference did that really make? Would the long-term quality of life have been so different if Apple or some other company had dominated the market instead? Despite his apparently vast influence, his actual freedom to do anything is relatively small.
What about the long term? The most powerful man ever - the one who made the biggest difference - was Jesus Christ. For 2000 years people have studied and re-studied his every recorded word, trying to be like him, or trying to do what he said. Not only has he changed millions of lives at a personal level, but he changed western civilization, which in turn changed the world.
Other people who have changed the world include a small proportion of scientists, inventors, politicians, military leaders, heads of organizations, and of course mothers. Mothers have the power to make or break not just a single life, but generations of lives thereafter. Even on the crudest, most simple level, if you have ten children and teach your children to have ten children each, then you will have at least a hundred times more impact on the world than the family that chooses to have just one child. But it really depends on how you raise them. The difference in power (freedom) between one mother and another really is infinite.
The point is that long term freedom does not depend on money. It does depend on knowledge and rules. In each of these cases, the effective individual learns the rules and disciplines herself (or himself) to make those rules work.
How the gospel gives more freedom
The gospel gives us the knowledge and the organization to make a real difference, long term. It thus gives more freedom than anything else.
However, living the gospel means moving in just one direction - the right direction. It does not mean running backwards and forwards in different directions. So a person living the gospel can seem dull, uninteresting, or restricted in his outlook. The difference between "a man of the world" and "a man of God" is that the man of the world is moving very quickly in all directions, but the man of God moves more slowly and steadily in just one direction. The man of the world sees this as restrictive, only because he cannot see the long-term goal.
What kind of freedom is it that leads to failure, mediocrity, or personal pain? What kind of freedom is it where all the choices are pretty meaningless and have no value? Many wealthy people are aware of this problem. You may have millions of dollars, but can you solve society's problems? What if your money comes from a financial system that is actually causing the problems in the first place? You may have powerful contacts, but can you stop yourself getting old and dying? And if you can, would you want to? Most of the choices in this life are pretty meaningless without some kind of revelation of right and wrong, without the big picture. In contrast, God not only offers organization and knowledge, he offers meaning to your choices.
So, God is the ultimate source of freedom. Anyone who wants power had better join a powerful organization. Anyone who wants knowledge had better find someone smarter than themselves. Anyone who wants meaning had better find someone who can see beyond our limited viewpoint. Anyone who wants freedom had better follow God.
Freedom, choice, and diversity
(All quotations are from "Weightier Matters" by Apostle Dallin H. Oaks, at the BYU Speeches Home Page)
In the modern world, variety (diversity) - is seen as an end in itself. The more diverse the better! This is seen as an objective in itself. But that is a foolish attitude.
"Diversity for its own sake is meaningless and can clearly be shown to lead to unacceptable results. For example, if diversity is the underlying goal for a neighborhood, does this mean we should take affirmative action to assure that the neighborhood includes thieves and pedophiles, slaughterhouses and water hazards? Diversity can be a good method to achieve some long-term goal, but public policy discussions need to get beyond the slogan to identify the goal, to specify the proposed diversity, and to explain how this kind of diversity will help to achieve the agreed goal."
"Our strength lies in our freedom to choose. There is strength even in our very diversity. But there is greater strength in the God-given mandate to each of us to work for the uplift and blessing of all His sons and daughters, regardless of their ethnic or national origin or other differences." [quoting President Hinckley - Teachings, p. 664]
"Tolerance is a way of reacting to diversity, not a command to insulate it from examination."
"Diversity and choice are not the weightier matters of the law. The weightier matters that move us toward our goals of eternal life are love of God, obedience to his commandments, and unity in accomplishing the work of his Church. In this belief and practice we move against the powerful modern tides running toward individualism and tolerance rather than toward obedience and cooperative action. Though our belief and practice is unpopular, it is right, and it does not require the blind obedience or the stifling uniformity its critics charge. If we are united on our eternal goal and united on the inspired principles that will get us there, we can be diverse on individual efforts in support of our goals and consistent with those principles."
Being different is good, but doing the right thing is better.
Righteous actions are good because they give freedom to make a bigger and better difference to the world.
|But what about...?
daily obedience to leaders
In order to teach and apply church principles we need an organization. That implies leaders. Because the church is based on freedom, different leaders can behave in different ways. This produces its own challenges. This section of this web page moves from principles to personalities.
Obedience is the first law of heaven
The gospel of Jesus Christ involves following. It begins and ends with "come, follow me." It goes beyod following Christ - because hrist called mortal men (prophets, apostles, etc.). It goes beyond simply following a limited set of external laws - we are to internalize it. If you are serious about the gospel of Jesus Christ, you had better be prepared for obedience.
2 Corinthians 10:4-6:
(For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ; And having in a readiness to revenge all disobedience, when your obedience is fulfilled.
So, even our thoughts are to be in captivity to Christ! We are not allowed to even THINK wrong. (And don't be misled by the phrase "when your obedience is fulfilled." Does this mean that the true Christian, having his thoughts in control every minute of every day, can suddenly start disobeying and thinking sinful things when he dies? I doubt it.)
Most churches cannot teach this
Many churches reject the living prophets. If you stick to the dead prophets, you are free to interpret the Bible as you wish. What if you don't like being told to do good works? Fine. Join a church that believes in being saved without works. So, you don't like being told that homosexuality is wrong? Fine. Join a "Gay Christian" group. Or perhaps you don't like spending so much time on church programs? Fine. Join a church where a full time paid minister takes on much of the work. Whatever you want, there is a modern Christian church to suit your tastes. I do not mean this to sound offensive, but it is a statement of fact. There are churches to suit every viewpoint. And they did not arise by accident.
If, like the early Christians, you believe in living apostles and prophets (even if you are not LDS), you know that you either accept unpleasant teachings or you reject Christ. The kingdom of God is just that - the kingdom of God. Not the democracy of God. Not the anarchy of God. But the kingdom of God. And if we want to get to heaven, we had better get to enjoy living by his rules. Heven consists of following Jesus forever.
Other views of heaven
Of course, this is not the only possible view of heaven. Other belief systems do not describe a heaven of obedience. Some talk of a general feeling of peace. Others talk of heaven like a garden where we can enjoy and be happy forever. But all of these views have serious problems:
- The atheists preach complete annihilation.
- The agnostics and lukewarm Christians have not faced up to the problem they are essentially ignorant of the afterlife, or even of the purpose of this life.
- The evangelicals and Jehovah's Witnesses preach a heaven where individuals were only ever toys for God ("toy soldiers" as C.S. Lewis puts it). They do not really follow Jesus (although they talk as if they do) because if they followed him forever they would eventually become like him. Instead, they have a form of eternal damnation, because their eternal progression must eventually stop. Yes, living in a garden worshipping God may be satisfying for the first hundred or thousand years, but imagine the torment of learning more and more and never being allowed to experience it, of Christians being prevented from following Christ any further, of the children of God being locked into the nursery forever. This heaven soon becomes a hell.
- As far as I understand, many eastern religions teach a kind of absorption into a universal mind, also a loss of individuality.
Put bluntly, the idea of a heaven based on obedience is the only one that makes sense. In my view, the LDS view is the only logically consistent one. If God loves us and knows far more than we do, it follows that he wants us to become as he is. And if we want to progress, then the only logical path is to obey God in all things.
Let's be blunt.
Heaven is a place of peace and joy... but also complete and absolute obedience. Is this the ultimate spirit prison, where all freedom is removed? Is it all the more sinister because the removal of freedom is voluntary? Is this the worst horror of annihilation, where our personality is extinguished (that is, we each become identical to each other, just doing what we are told?) Is it only joyful because our thoughts and feelings have been conditioned to think and feel only that?
Now, let us look in detail at the problems of obedience and freedom.
The freedom and obedience problem
This is the easy one. The problem is "how can I be free if I obey someone else?"
Simple. We make an informed decision based on evidence and choice. For example, person "a" says "please accept this money." Do you choose to obey or disobey? Such limited obedience is not a problem. Now, let us move on to the more difficult questions.
The "army" problem
The more serious problems arise when you consider that a church is like an army - the army of God. The prophet acts as a general, commanding the troops on behalf of (and under the instructions of) the king, who is Jesus Christ.
In an army, a distant general gives instructions to a group of soldiers. Usually, the general will be correct for the army as a whole, as he sees the Big Picture. But individual soldiers may see details the general does not. Or details that the general does see, but cannot comment on, as the danger of misleading the other soldiers is too great.
In short, you may be asked to do things that, while on the whole are a very good idea, seem to be wrong (or perhaps ARE wrong) for you. What do you do?
In an army, your platoon may be told to fire at an enemy line. But as a foot soldier you can see that your particular part of the line is already unmanned. Do you fire anyway?
As a Christian, perhaps you have been asked as a group to perform some act of service. But you happen to know that you would do far more good to the community by doing something else instead. Do you join in or not?
The problem is particularly acute for a Christian because nine times out of ten the reason for not obeying is just an excuse, a reason for an easier life, and something to be ignored. But what about the tenth time when the reason is valid?
"Commandments" can be seen as very wise advice. Some (such as not killing) are likely to be correct under almost any conceivable circumstances. Some (such as safety guidelines) may often depend on the circumstances.
The omnipotent General problem
If the general has unlimited information and intelligence, he knows what the soldier should do.
If the soldiers have every decision taken for them, they are just tools. Their every action is entirely predictable.
The wise general give goals the details are up to the soldier.
The artificial intelligence problem
If a robot has a small number of goals, and rules for optimally reaching those goals, it may appear to be taking its own decisions most of the time. But if each decision is constrained by numerous rules, and if there is only one shortest path from (a) to (b) given these constraints, and if the robot must choose the shortest path, then the robots actions are entirely constrained, just as if it was controlled by strings and chains.
- Either the controller can deliberately reduce the number of rules, allowing the robot to choose without "right" or "wrong,"
- or, the controller can allow a random element so there is not one single predictable path,
- or, the controller can allow the robot to choose a sub-optimal path.
The endless warfare problem
Even the most dedicated soldier must look forward to the occasional rest, or eventual retirement. Even for Alexander, warfare was a means to an end (world domination), not a constant feature for its own sake. Yet with the gospel, we go through this world of struggle so that we can create more worlds of struggle!
This problem may be just an illusion. Endless warfare is only one perspective. From a higher perspective we see new and more rewarding details. Or even from a lower perspective. For example, the human body is in a constant state of struggle against the elements - we breathe air to survive, we all daily battle against disease and hunger, and our bodies are made up of thousands of biological checks and balances all opposing each other. Yes, you could see it as a constant war, or you could see it as just normal healthy life.
These two approaches are apparent in wildlife documentary TV programs. For some time now it has been fashionable to describe nature as a battle for survival. Perhaps it makes good TV. But if you actually look at a group of animals for a length of time, you see that they spend most of their time casually eating, playing, sleeping, or generally relaxed and content.
|The real problem: identity|
The real problem is not freedom, but wanting to be different. In truth, most of us do not mind following orders all day long, as long as:
- we are on the winning team,
- we are happy and satisfied,
- we can see why we are doing it (or at least most of it),
- we are really making a difference,
- we are progressing somewhere,
- we have chosen this ourselves - we always have the choice to stop obeying,
- or we feel we are making a unique contribution: we are different and unique in our role, making real use of our talents.
We need to know that if we stopped obeying, we could not be simply replaced by another clone. As "The Prisoner" said in that old 60s show,
I AM NOT A NUMBER!
This last point is the most important. People are very adaptable. We can get used to almost anything. After all, right now most of us live our lives on trust - we don't really understand the forces that control our lives. We are quite happy to follow instructions (at work for example) if it seems worthwhile and we get paid a lot of money. But the one thing a thinking person can never accept is that we are indistinguishable as individuals. Maybe this is just a western idea, but I doubt it. The spirit screams out against this at a deep and fundamental level. People are not interchangeable! This is not a matter of pride. It is a matter of existence.
This narrow point is simply resolved.
- We need to be always known by a name.
- We need to retain our past.
- Although we should be rounded individuals, able to take on any task, we should have specific assignments that are we can enjoy the most because they are based on our unique experience.
Finally, a note about eternal families
In this life our identities are defined in large part by our families. We are not just generic people, floating about loose on an uncaring planet. We have surnames. We have parents. We have grandparents and great grandparents. They nurtured us and helped to make us what we are. Many of us have brothers and sisters.
One of the great truths of the restored gospel, the guarantee that we do not lose our identities when we die, is that family relationships can continue after death. If we reject this offer, then after we die we will be just one of countless billions of people. (As far as I can tell, it is a common belief among many churches that God does not like married couples - he instituted marriage, but they say he intends to divorce us all when we die.) But, if we accept the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, we know that when we die we will each be somebody. We will each be part of a family stretching back to Adam, and forward into the eternities. We will fit in. We will be irreplaceable. We will matter to people. We will each be unique in the most meaningful way possible.
For a disciple of Christ to have real freedom for eternity, at the very least, the following need to be true:
- The disciple must be able to occasionally disobey one rule when a more important rule is at stake (treat this with extreme caution).
- The Lord should deliberately not give instructions in some areas.
- The disciple must always retain his name, relationships, and past history (although sins can be repented of and forgotten).
- We should have specific assignments that we can enjoy the most because they are based on our unique experience.
- And, either:
- The Lord must allow some issues to be decided without a "right" or "wrong" attached,
- Or, allow a random element so there is not one single predictable path
- Or, allow the disciple to choose a sub-optimal path.
Is there evidence for these things in the revealed words of God?
Yes, there is.
The seven doctrinal keys to freedom
- God has shown that not all laws are equal. Jesus referred to "the weightier matters of the law," and said some very sensible things about an ox falling into a pit on the Sabbath.
- The Lord has said that it is not right to command in all things.
- A righteous person retains their name, personality, and relationships even in the eternities.
- We have unique talents and spiritual gifts while here, and our future responsibilities appear to be based (at least in part) on our unique backgrounds.
- The Lord allows some issues to be decided without a "right" or "wrong" attached.
- Even where there is right and wrong there is a range of possible responses - in other words, there is freedom (choice) even after we use our agency has chosen to follow God.
- Modern revelation shows that the Holy Ghost will not make choices for you, and will always support a righteous person in their fallible choices (unless your choice is very wrong).
For details, see the page of quotations.
the bottom line
Obedience is the first law of heaven - because it gives freedom.