This is the third in our current series of lessons exploring the Reform Mormon approach to morality and ethics. In the previous lesson we explored how the Mormon doctrine that God was once human and that humans may progress to Godhood, undermines the traditional belief that God or some other supreme authority decrees what is moral or immoral. In this lesson we will begin to explore the Mormon doctrine of Free Agency (Free Will) and its relationship to morality and values.
WE ARE MERELY FREE TO CHOSE BETWEEN OBEDIENCE & DISOBEDIENCE?
Since Mormons were the most persecuted religious minority in American history, Mormons themselves have a deep love for freedom of religion. Yet even while sincerely revering individual liberty, few Mormons understand just how radical is the Mormon doctrine of individual Free Agency (Free Will.) Indeed, Mormonism is unique among the religions of the world with regard to this subject since it views the individual not as a creation of God but as a being who shares a common nature with God. Just as God’s Free Agency was not given to Him by another but is simply inherent in His nature, so human freedom was not given by God but is simply inherent in human nature.
Despite this radical belief, many Mormons tend to view individual Free Agency in much the same way as do believers in other Christian denominations: God determines what is moral and issues commandments accordingly, but leaves each individual free to either obey (reaping blessings) or disobey (suffering punishment or loss.)
Free Agency is viewed as the freedom to accept or rejecting a previously divinely ordained universal good. But since Mormonism’s radically new vision of a limited God who was once human undermines this limited view of Free Agency is limited and incomplete at best. At its worst, traditional views of Free Agency actually undermine the foundations for a truly moral character.
LIVING UNDER A DICTATOR
Imagine that you are living under the rule of one of the absolute dictators that rose to power over the past century. The dictator, wielding absolute power, issues a law; he declares all citizens are free to decide if they will obey the law or not; those who obey, will be left alone to live their lives; those who disobey will be imprisoned, exiled or executed.
Living under such a system, you are in reality only free do to as you’re told; to disobey is to suffer some sort of punishment. Under such a system, your obedience or disobedience has nothing whatsoever to do with your character, with your personal objectives or goals for your life, with the people or things that you may value. In fact, the so-called “freedom” you have under such a government (the freedom to do as you’re commanded or suffer punishment) would probably undermine your personal objectives, goals and values.
Even among those religions that revere human freedom, God is still imagined to be a sort of cosmic dictator; a supreme authority Who rules according to His will and unto Whom the individual can render only obedience or disobedience.
What does life under a dictatorship have in common with the traditional notion of an all-powerful God who gives salvation, exaltation or damnation to individuals based on their obedience to His will?
Can a dictator determine what you will value, love or find relevant? Can any outside force or power determine what you will value, love or find relevant? Can God?
What role does one’s personal values and loves play in living a moral and ethical life? What role does integrity play in living a moral and ethical life?
Why would it be difficult to live a life of integrity under a dictatorship or in a society where what one should value and love has already been determined by the authorities in charge?
Why might it be difficult to live a life of integrity if one believes that God has already determined what one should value and love?
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