28 March 2010

A Sunday Thought

I have very rarely used my blog to express my religious convictions. I feel like doing so today. This will be primarily a theological post.

I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Twice a year we listen to a broadcast of our Church's leaders called General Conference. During the Conference we hear instruction and reminders about how we can apply the principles of Christ's gospel to our lives.

Today we studied one of the discourses from the most recent Conference in a men's study class that I led. It is titled "Moral Discipline" and was given by Elder D. Todd Christofferson. He is a member of our Church's Quorum of Twelve Apostles, and I consider him a witness of Jesus Christ (this is also his official duty in the Church).

I thought this talk worth sharing because it touches on a few areas that are applicable to our day and time. Here is a quote:

The societies in which many of us live have for more than a generation failed to foster moral discipline. They have taught that truth is relative and that everyone decides for himself or herself what is right. Concepts such as sin and wrong have been condemned as “value judgments.” As the Lord describes it, “Every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god” (D&C 1:16).

As a consequence, self-discipline has eroded and societies are left to try to maintain order and civility by compulsion. The lack of internal control by individuals breeds external control by governments. One columnist observed that “gentlemanly behavior [for example, once] protected women from coarse behavior. Today, we expect sexual harassment laws to restrain coarse behavior. . . .

“Policemen and laws can never replace customs, traditions and moral values as a means for regulating human behavior. At best, the police and criminal justice system are the last desperate line of defense for a civilized society. Our increased reliance on laws to regulate behavior is a measure of how uncivilized we’ve become.”2

I believe in moral absolutes. I believe that each individual has the right to choose their own path, but mere selection of a moral path does not make that path correct. I don't walk around judging people who make different choices than I do- I don't have the time, inclination, or right to do so. But I try to make choices based on whether they conform to a moral constant.

I think many, many people do this as well. The unfortunate part is that we, as a society, have failed to maintain a core moral discipline that provides a framework for our behavior and treatment of others. We are afraid to declare societal norms to guide individual behavior. Elder Christofferson continues:

I have heard a few parents state that they don’t want to impose the gospel on their children but want them to make up their own minds about what they will believe and follow. They think that in this way they are allowing children to exercise their agency. What they forget is that the intelligent use of agency requires knowledge of the truth, of things as they really are (see D&C 93:24). Without that, young people can hardly be expected to understand and evaluate the alternatives that come before them. Parents should consider how the adversary approaches their children. He and his followers are not promoting objectivity but are vigorous, multimedia advocates of sin and selfishness.
As a a parent I am more than a little terrified about the possibility that my children will make bad choices. I don't plan to be ambiguous about what "bad" means. I'm frustrated that the world we live in will likely hinder, rather than aid, my efforts. I am grateful to have a framework that I think will help me in my efforts.

It's not the most popular ideology. It drives some people nuts. It has helped me live a simple and fulfilling life, and I am grateful for it.


A.J. said...

Thanks for sharing. I have trouble sharing my faith (or, sometimes, lack there of) with people, so I can appreciate the sentiment with which the post was written.

One particular line struck a chord with me:

"Our increased reliance on laws to regulate behavior is a measure of how uncivilized we’ve become."

At work, they recently decided to install flashing walk-way signs at cross roads. I refuse to use them. Not because they are a terrible idea, but because I was taught growing up that you look both ways before crossing the street and make sure to engage eye contact with drivers so you know they are not going to run into you. I feel like the flashing sign gives people a false sense of security. Therefore, they do not have to look both ways or even care. They just push the button and walk into the street. To me, that makes the sign's mere existence more dangerous than its absence. I like to follow what I was taught and know will always lead me right.

I kind of feel that way about a lot of laws in this country. I do not require certain ones to realize what moral and immoral behavior is. The problem is, people rely on the constructs of government to keep in check those who consider themselves outside the realm of normal, societal behavior. Once enacted, everyone relies upon them to such a degree that we start to believe they are the truth. It is a tricky situation and not sure how to manage it otherwise. As you said:

"I try to make choices based on whether they conform to a moral constant"

What else can we do? However, when it comes down to certain issues, there will always be disagreement. I am not trying to politicize this post, but certain things in my mind are hard to rectify and I still struggle with and as you mention (and I agree) I do not have the right to tell people what to think. For example, saving lives versus allowing freedom of choice in birth. I tend to choose the latter for other people, but would always choose the former in my own personal life because it just seems to make sense. What to do ...

Jlowryjr said...

Thanks for the comment.

I think I am more comfortable "enforcing belief" when the opportunity presents itself. For example, on the issue of same-sex marriage I would vote in favor of a restriction on anything other than traditional marriage. I would probably do the same for abortion.

But at the same time it is not a top legislative priority for me, and I don't think that the role of government is to legislate in that way.

Seems kind of conflicted, I'm sure.

A.J. said...

Funny ... I almost wrote about same sex marriage as well.

It does sound conflicted, but I think that is only human. I am conflicted as well, but likely would vote in the opposite direction if I had to vote on it.

Lacy said...

Great post! I think years ago I could understand the conflict a bit better. At this point it just makes complete sense to me that there is right and there is wrong.