Repost: On Ordain Women Being Confined to Free Speech Zones
There’s been a little controversy surrounding the group Ordain Women being asked to confine their activities to the “free speech zones” during the priesthood session of the upcoming general conference. Though I don’t agree with all of his philosophy, this blogger has constructed a very good argument supporting the Church’s position.
Difficult Run: On Ordain Women Being Confined to Free Speech Zones
The Psychological and Cultural Challenges of Truth-Seeking
Whether we realize it or not, we are always seeking truth. That is what our brains are wired to do. Every time something happens the same way or we hear the same sound or we see the same image, the neural pathways are reinforced to connect that event to our understanding of reality. We gain understanding through everything that we do, everything we sense, and in some way or another, even everything that we imagine. We are connecting the dots, constantly seeking a fuller understanding of the truth about those things that affect us.
The learning of truth is a synergistic process. As our understanding grows to incorporate new principles, it reinforces our understanding of principles we have already learned and moves us closer to new truths. I like to use the analogy of a tapestry being woven by hand, thread by thread – not necessarily in order. Each principle we learn is a thread placed and understood by its relation to those intersecting and nearby. As more and more threads are placed, more and more of the pattern of the overall tapestry is revealed. The portions that appear most complete may not be adjacent to each other, and we may have few connecting threads between them. However, as long as we are continuously adding new threads and fixing the patterns more properly and completely into place, we are making progress. We may occasionally have to pull out a few threads and re-arrange the tapestry slightly, but doing so helps resolve the overall image more clearly, and allows us to continue to progress. Refusing to pull threads may result in a complete, though senseless tapestry. Properly attended, you will not live long enough to complete your tapestry, but you will still find much beauty in it.
As the nature of Truth prevents any individual from ever completing their tapestry, it can be very difficult to judge truths claimed by others – they may have worked on completely different parts of their tapestry – approaching truth from a different set of core beliefs, using a different set of tools and methodologies for finding truth. Although we are all working on our own copy of the same tapestry, our works-in-progress, as they will always be, will always look different from everyone else’s. No two people have the same understanding of truth. Depending on our point of view, this can be troubling or exciting.
Truth is what is, what was and what will be. There is only one truth. It is, however, infinitely divisible. It is ignorant to think that any one person could comprehend all truth, and equally ignorant to think that there could be anyone who does not understand any truth. We all have a unique understanding of truth formed by our journey through this life. By communicating with each other we can attempt to share our understanding. When we have had similar experiences with another person, we will find that there is much understanding that we hold in common – reinforcing those truths. When we find someone who has had significantly different experiences than we have had, the opportunity to learn from them is greater, as their understanding may be much different than ours, and may require us to make several other connections to truly understand their perspective.
Unfortunately, when we meet someone who has a different understanding of truth than we do, the natural tendency is to attempt to convince them to see things our way. Most of the time this difference is caused by religion and culture (the scientific approach leaves comparatively little to debate), often stemming from different traditional and cultural interpretations of truths handed down by trusted authorities. Though a person might assume that a debate is about a single differing point of understanding of truth, such a debate is likely to be less about the point of truth itself but more about how that understanding was derived. In other words, to criticize a doctrinal point can very easily be taken as an attack against a religious figure or against an entire culture. Before we can learn from someone, we have to grant them a certain amount of respect that extends to both their beliefs and experience as well as to the person.
If we focus on the goal of understanding and learning as much as we can, I believe this search for truth can be one of the most powerful unifying forces available to us. We can learn a great deal from talking to someone with whom we disagree. If we are focused on learning and not teaching, others will be more likely to be interested in learning about us. This focus on understanding can bring differing views together peaceably. It is when we decide that there is nothing another individual can teach us that we start down the road to animosity.
Usually, two reasonable people who desire to learn from each other and find truth can reach a joint understanding of the truth they are discussing. Unfortunately, there are times when a consensus cannot be reached. It is the nature of truth itself that is partly to blame. Because we cannot understand it perfectly, cannot understand all the connections or relevant information, we are not in a position to learn everything. Others with different experiences may be able to understand something that we never will. This is not because we are ignorant or defective, but merely illustrates the need for many members in a society. Some have particular talents or preferences that lead them to different truths than those around them. We can’t expect to learn everything that others understand, but we can expect to learn something from anyone. However, two people from completely different backgrounds will likely not have the frame of reference necessary to come to agreement on everything, no matter how long they talk.
Additionally, because of the nature of belief – filling in when there is an absence of knowledge – there are a great many errant beliefs out there. They exist because they help people make sense of things or otherwise help them in some way. They are not made up on a whim. They serve a vital purpose in helping people live normal lives. Perhaps it is because of their critical role in our lives that beliefs are difficult to change. Many people don’t even recognize the difference between their beliefs and their knowledge. One main difference is that you can believe something that is not true. You cannot know something that is not true.
By definition, truth excludes what is not true. If two different people or groups have understandings of truth that are mutually exclusive and cannot be reconciled, they must consider the other to be wrong. In the end, one group will be right, and the other wrong, or both can be wrong. Both cannot be correct.
One would hope that through dialogue and respect that all such differences could be reconciled, bringing all involved to a deeper understanding of truth. Unfortunately, the powers of culture, pride and loyalty seem to scuttle such dialogue more often than not. The more elevated one’s position in a culture, religion or field of study, the more difficult it is to admit a false belief. As a result, those with the greatest power to affect change are often the ones for whom change is most difficult. However, when an individual in such a position is able to focus on the truth and recognize its worth to those he leads, the benefits usually outweigh the negative consequences, though often at a high personal cost to that leader.
Additionally, there are often people in positions of little power who have discovered truths, and who find the culture they are in to be hostile to those truths. It takes a similar level of courage and conviction to hold fast to those truths, despite the persecution they receive. The more revolutionary the truth discovered, the more likely the individual will be remembered and respected, if posthumously, for their work. Galileo and Martin Luther are two good examples.
Suffice it to say, reconciling new truths that are contrary to deeply held beliefs will always be a difficult process, regardless of the source of the truth. Perhaps part of the difficulty comes from the fact that it very easy to believe something, but to truly understand something takes much more effort and active learning. It is almost always easiest to believe the things that those around you believe. Seeking to turn that belief into knowledge and a better understanding of truth is a difficult process.
There is great value in understanding. It is the essence of progress and power. It changes our relationship with truth. Instead of a being a passive observer or even victim of truth, with understanding we become masters of truth and can turn it into power, influence and ability. It is worth the effort.
Line Upon Line
Because this is General Conference weekend and I can see everything “on-demand” as it were, I have made the choice to treat this as a Sunday when I can support my wife in her religious choices. So, twice a year, we all go to the Unitarian Universalist church she attends, the First Church in Salem. I like the congregation a lot. I particularly like the pastor, Rev. Jeffrey Barz-Snell. So, I had been looking forward to attending with her — to the extent that I started thinking about why that was, and formulated the seed for this post.
One of the things that I have appreciated about Pastor Jeff is that he has always taken a very humble approach to his sermons. It may be that most Universalists are that way, but I like that he does not pretend any God-given authority, and relies solely on his reasoning, education, and down-to-earth-we’re-all-in-this-together view of things to persuade in his sermons. I suspect the approach is not uncommon among the UU congregations, as there is “The Covenant” hanging on the wall to the right of the pulpit:
In short, they believe in doing their best to live according to the spiritual truth they know. This can be applied to almost anyone, which is why I believe it’s important to support my wife, and anyone else for that matter, in whatever religion they choose. When we are true to the knowledge we have, God will give us more, guiding us ever closer to him. This is the “line upon line” principle, taught in Isaiah 28 and reiterated several times in LDS scriptures.
Interestingly, both sermons Pastor Jeff gave this morning – the “children’s moment” and the general sermon – both illustrated this principle. For the children, he had an object lesson with two pieces of fruit, one of which was made to seem much more appetizing than the other, and taught the principle of knowing good people by their “fruit”. For the adults he talked about the importance of sticking to the core Christianity from which Unitarians originated. For the kids, tools to teach them how to find knowledge, and for the adults, a reminder that extreme interpretations of Jesus Christ are not the only option, and Christianity will always have value to those able to separate Christ from the “Christians.”
We are all at different levels of spirituality, but this principle is the same for all of us. Hold on to the truth you have. Live it, use it, then ask for more. That is the way we ALL progress to be closer to Him. I am grateful for all of the good people in the world that do their best to follow the truth they understand. We should all spend more time asking, seeking and knocking.
I’ll be spending the remainder of this week watching the General Conference sessions I missed.
The word “discipline” has many slightly different meanings, but they all stem from the same concept – that of learning to follow a prescribed path or set of rules. It can refer to the punishment delivered for not following the rules, or the mastery of a field of study, but ultimately the core of the definition, and what I am interested in here, is the building of self-control in order to make ones actions consistent with ones values.
This kind of discipline is central to the purpose of religion, in general. In fact, I would argue that discipline is a defining characteristic of religions, in that the degree to which they embrace or eschew discipline and the object of the discipline provides substantial insight into the nature of nearly any religion. This is certainly true for the LDS Church.
The LDS Church embraces a high ideal when it comes to discipline. There are several scriptures that set this ideal. First, there is the command to be perfect, as stated in Matt. 5:48 and reiterated in 3 Nephi 12:48. On top of that, we believe that we will be judged by our thoughts, words and deeds. (Mosiah 4:30) So, not only should our behavior be perfect, but also our speech and even our thoughts!
Obviously, that’s not technically possible — at least not for an entire lifetime, and for most of us, even a perfect day is far fetched. Nevertheless, I am grateful for that standard. It means that we will always be able to be a little better, constantly improving ourselves. He wants us to be perfect. More importantly, God promises to help us achieve the things he commands us. (See 1 Cor 10:13 and 1 Nephi 3:7) In this pursuit, of utmost importance is the Atonement that makes up for all of the mistakes along the way, and makes true progress possible. Close behind in importance is the guidance, structure and assistance He provides for us to gain that discipline of body and mind.
That’s what perfection is: discipline. It is being entirely consistent with a perfect model: God and Christ.
When we desire to gain discipline in anything, we start by first learning the rules, often selecting a model or teacher to guide your progress. When it comes to Christianity, the model is obvious, but unfortunately, we don’t have the ability to directly observe Christ. So, we must resort to the scriptures and other religious teachers. As most religious teachers gained their knowledge the same way, the words of Christ and his prophets in the scriptures are the best way to learn His will for us. And so, from an early age, young members of the LDS Church are encouraged to read the scriptures daily.
Of course, discipline can’t be said truly to begin until you do something with what you’ve learned. We start out following the rules because they are the rules, in other words, through obedience. We try to follow the rules we’re given and the examples of our models and teachers (remember, I’m talking about those who desire to learn discipline).
As we make a regular practice of following rules, we often gain an appreciation for and an understanding of the rules. We also start to form habits. From an outside perspective, this may achieve a primary goal of the discipline, but there is a danger in stopping here.
Ultimately if we wish to master a disipline, we need to fully understand the reasons for the rules, so that we can extrapolate necessary or desired behavior in situations where the rules may be ambiguous or insufficient. In order to make this extrapolation a clear understanding of both the model and the rules is necessary. With this understanding, we are able to act in a way that effectively aligns us with the model, but where our adherence to the rules happens not because they are rules but because we understand how they help us to obtain the perfection we desire.
As human beings, our capacity for error is literally infinite. We cannot say that even mastery is the end of the road in terms of progression. We must continue to do one thing that we need to do throughout this process — constantly guard against and correct deviations from the model as we discover them or they are pointed out to us. We must both accept correction, and self-correct every step of the way.
When we apply this processes to attain a certain level of discipline within a religion we call it discipleship. Religions generally aim to make all of their followers disciples. This is certainly true in the LDS Church. Many of the teachings and practices recommended by the Church serve to foster such discipline. The teachings are certainly not unique to the LDS Church, and using them in any religion or even outside any religion at all, will also result in increased discipline.
The first is daily prayer. We are encouraged from a young age to pray over all parts of our lives. In the morning, at night, at meals, before and after meetings, even before and after sporting or cultural events. In fact, we are encouraged to pray always. One benefit of prayer, is that it serves to re-focus us on what is important, and provides a time for us to examine our lives and identify where we need to make corrections.
We are also encouraged to study the scriptures daily. We must know Christ in order to use him as our model, and there is no better way to know him than through scripture study and prayer.
Every week at church, we take the sacrament. For us, this is a time to renew our covenants (entered at baptism) to try to live as He taught and to take His name upon us – to be true Christians. We need these weekly opportunities to re-commit ourselves, to move past last weeks failings and focus on the good we can do in the coming week.
The Church has also designated the first Sunday of every month (though it is moved on occasion) as “Fast Sunday,” and encourages us to fast for 24 hours (or as much as we are able), and to give the money we would have spent to the fund the Church uses to provide food, clothing, housing and other critical assistance to members of the Church (and community, at times) in need. Fasting itself is one of the best ways to learn discipline. Through it, we learn that our spirits/minds can be more powerful than our bodies. That is the key to true discipline. If we allow our human impulses and urges to govern our behavior, or worse, believe that we have no power to control those impulses, discipline will always be beyond our grasp.
These tools are the basics for putting us on a path to discipline and discipleship. They allow us to tackle the more advanced, abstract concepts of self-control, integrity and sacrifice — all of which are ways in which we practice discipline.
We know we will always be imperfect. The great thing about discipline is that you CAN be perfect for short periods of time in some things. We are not required to be perfect to attain salvation. We are required to work on becoming more perfect. We call it “eternal progression.” When we are making progress, we are on the path. When we are helping others, we are on the path. When we are learning, we are on the path. If we get off the path, Christ is always there to help us back onto the path.
Discipline is an interesting thing. No matter how disciplined or skilled we are in a discipline, maintaining that level of discipline is a daily effort. Daily effort + daily discipline + eternal progression = perfection.
The Plan of Salvation Part IV: Life after Death
(This is part 4 of my series on the Plan of Salvation. If you haven’t read the previous posts, you may want to start with the overview.)
I suspect one of the reasons religion has maintained a powerful influence on humankind over the past several millenia is that it usually comes with some answer to the question, “what happens when we die?” This age-old question is always there, nagging. As human beings, we like being prepared. Not knowing what will happen makes that preparation extremely difficult. In many ways, the lack of a sufficient answer is a driver of civilization – motivating activities from the planting of crops to the purchase of insurance. There is nothing that is both so universally influential and poorly understood as our passing from this life.
The answer to this question, according to most religions, is some kind of existence after death. Many non-religous people would claim this is wishful thinking. Some people have claimed “near-death” experiences. At least one scientist has tried to detect spirits leaving the dying. Ultimately, there is little convincing proof of what happens, leading most to act according to their hopes and fears of what might be. Many a philanthropist, for instance, has been motivated by a fear that only the influence they have on others will last beyond death. Specific beliefs about the afterlife are rare.
In contrast, LDS doctrine surrounding our continued existence after death is quite specific on many points. Not only do we believe that our spirits continue to exist, but we have some very specific beliefs about the nature of “heaven” and “hell” as well as the overarching trajectory and substance of how we continue to exist.
Within the context of the Plan of Salvation, death is merely a transition from one part of our existence to another. Our spirits, which are eternal, depart from our bodies at death. Our consciousness, our individual personalities and psyches are contained within our spirit. So, in essence, we are the same people after death as we are in life, only without a body. We will retain our identities, our knowledge, our preferences, and even our senses of humor.
As spirits are made up of matter, we also continue to have a form and location. Immediately after death, we return to the spirit world which we left to come to this mortal life. There we will be met by our loved ones who have passed before us, and more importantly, by our Savior. This initial meeting is a homecoming — a loving welcome.
After this there is a period of waiting. That is to say that this is not our end state. While we are waiting, we’ll have time to contemplate the lives we lived and interact with some of those we may have affected with our choices in life, for good or ill. Some might consider this period heaven, and others might consider it hell. In LDS terminology, this is Paradise and Spirit Prison.
Those who have an understanding of the Gospel will use this time to teach those who do not, in order to prepare them for what is to come. This effort is led and organized by Christ, himself. All who have died without the opportunity to learn of the Gospel will have a chance to hear it and accept the covenants and redemption it provides at that point. For those who choose this path, baptism is still a requirement. Because this is a physical ordinance requiring a body, living members of the LDS Church perform proxy baptisms for the dead.
Some might wonder why, if one could accept Jesus after we die, someone wouldn’t just opt to live their life as they please and repent in the afterlife. There are several ways to answer that question. In my mind, the most compelling reason is that the end goal isn’t simple salvation, but rather becoming like God. This requires dramatic improvement from our current state. Every choice that we make, either in this life or the next, either brings us closer to God or further from Him and shapes our personality accordingly. The farther we are from God, the harder it will be to return to Him when we decide to make that change. Those who delay their repentance hurt themselves more than anyone else.
The next event is resurrection. Every person who has ever lived will eventually be resurrected. According to LDS doctrine, this means that the spirit will be rejoined to a physical body. Only this time, it will be a perfect, immortal body — we will appear similar to the way we looked in our mortal prime. “Every limb and joint shall be restored to its body; yea, even a hair of the head shall not be lost; but all things shall be restored to their proper and perfect frame.” (Alma 40:23)
Although all will be resurrected, it will happen at different times for different people. Those who were righteous in this life will be resurrected as part of the “first” resurrection. This began with the Resurrection of Christ, after which “the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose.” (Matt. 27:52) Righteous people who died before Jesus were resurrected at that time. The next wave of this first resurrection will occur at Christ’s Second Coming, and will continue through His millennial reign. The “second” resurrection will happen at the end of that reign, and all remaining people will be resurrected at that time.
After we are resurrected, the next step in the Plan is the Final Judgement. I will leave this, and a discussion of the results of that judgement for a separate final post.
I feel it’s important to point out here that while I believe all of this partly because it is what is taught by the Church, I would not likely believe such detail if it weren’t all consistent with what the scriptures teach about the character of God and with the direct teachings related to the afterlife. I choose to believe in this because it makes sense with the other religious truths I embrace. It shows the love of God for us and His desire for all of His children who will to return to Him. There may be little to no support from the body of scientific truth to support this belief, but ultimately that doesn’t matter, as there’s little that science could add one way or the other. I choose to have hope in this outcome. I hope some of you also find it comforting to imagine that it could be this way.
Should Mormon women be ordained? Or are they already priesthood holders?
According to Joanna Brooks, “Mormon theology on gender is incoherent.” It’s a well written and reasoned argument and a fascinating read.
For several weeks now, I have devoted my columns here to my own personal exploration of the question of women and priesthood ordination within the LDS Church. What set me to this project was the launch of OrdainWomen.org, a set of profiles published by Mormon men and women calling for ordination of LDS women to the priesthood.
Even though I have been a committed feminist for more than twenty years, I never felt the same kind of visceral connection to the priesthood ordination issue that I had so readily felt on other issues of fairness and equality. Seeing the faces of friends go public on-line in support of ordination at Ordainwomen.org made me wonder why.
Perhaps it was because I had not studied the issue carefully enough? Perhaps studying the LDS scriptures and doctrines that structured priesthood ordination would help me arrive at a better understanding of the matter, and…
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Doctrine vs. Practice
In theory, there should be a very clear-cut distinction between the doctrine and the practice of a church. Doctrine comprises the core beliefs that are typically considered to be religious truth, and therefore unchangeable. How a church operates and practices those beliefs often changes with interpretation and the shifting moral norms. This is very easy to pick out when dealing with historical changes. The challenge is in separating current practices from the doctrine they are founded upon.
While doctrine is usually considered unchangeable, changes in practice can re-cast doctrines in a different light, or otherwise change the interpretation of the doctrine, which can sometimes lead to doctrinal shifts over time. This can make it even trickier to separate the two.
An additional way in which things get obfuscated is people making up pseudo-doctrine to account for a particular practice. This regularly happens when trying to justify current practices that don’t necessarily stem directly from doctrine, and such false doctrines often persist long after the practice they were invented to justify is discontinued.
For example, prior to 1978, black men were not ordained to the priesthood in the LDS Church. While there is at least one documented case that I know of where the founder of the Church, Joseph Smith, ordained a black man to the priesthood, it was determined that this should not happen early in the history of the Church. For many years afterwards, particularly as the modern civil rights era came along, members often felt they had to justify this practice. They often turned to non-doctrinal statements made by Church leaders assuming and promoting it as doctrine. Pseudo-doctrinal justification that was widely circulated include:
- Blacks were “fence-sitters” in the pre-mortal war in heaven
- Black skin marks the posterity of Cain and so, those who are spiritually cursed or inferior
Both of these are false doctrines twisted from true ones in order to justify a racist practice. When the practice was changed in 1978 by an official declaration, it was made clear that these justifications were false. The declaration re-emphasized the doctrine that “all are alike unto God” who has no “regard for race or color.” Another true doctrine that could be read between the lines as responsible for the practice in the first place is that this is an imperfect church in an imperfect world with imperfect men to guide it. There will occasionally be practices either corrupted by or adapted to this environment. My personal belief is that there is great significance in this period of discrimination as having coincided with the years leading up to the Civil War and ending not long after the height of the Civil Rights era. Admittedly, that still doesn’t make the discrimination right.
This is just one illustration of why it is so important to be able to recognize the difference between doctrine the practices; so that when we are faced with an imperfect practice supported by pseudo-doctrine, we will be able to find the obscured truth that will guide us closer to God while still accepting the imperfect. Changes to practices are an important part of progress.
There are two other LDS practices with associated doctrine that I wish to discuss. The first is relatively easy to accept, the second might be harder for some people. I will first discuss the Word of Wisdom, and then polygamy.
The Word of Wisdom (see D&C 89) was introduced in 1833 as a “principle with a promise”. It was a code of health given to the Church advising against tobacco, alcohol and “hot drinks” (clarified as coffee and tea), and encouraging the consumption of grains and vegetables. It was originally given specifically NOT as a commandment. As such, it is fairly straightforward to separate the current practice of the Church, requiring compliance with key points as prerequisites for both baptism and temple attendance, from the doctrine, which is simply that of blessings promised for compliance and the principle that God cares about what we do to our bodies.
With the current practice being so obviously extrapolated from the original intent of the doctrine, it is subject to change. In fact, there is an indication that it will change to some degree in a prophecy related to the Second Coming. In Mark 14:25 it states that when the kingdom of God comes, Christ will drink with us from the “fruit of the vine.” As wine is currently forbidden by Church practice, an exception will eventually be made.
On the other side of things we have the doctrine of polygamy. Polygamy was formally introduced in 1843 and was a common practice, especially among the leadership of the Church, until 1890, when it was ended by “manifesto.” Polygamy had generally become embraced by the members of the Church at that time, partly because there were many widows as well as an overpopulation of women due to the persecutions the Church had endured before migrating West, and it was seen as an effective way of caring for them. The declaration discusses the political and legal pressure that the Church was under at that time as result of the practice. The Church was also lobbying for statehood. Wilford Woodruff, the President of the Church at the time, conclusively ended the practice. Existing marriages were left intact, but no new ones were allowed.
In subsequent addresses to the Church, President Woodruff expressed his ultimate willingness to submit to the will of the Lord in this matter. Significantly, he did not back down from or negate the doctrine upon which polygamy was allowed, to the contrary, he expressed the necessity only of stopping the practice, “that the Devil” — who was seen as the driver of the political pressure — “should not thwart [the work of the Church].”
This position on polygamy has not been changed to this day. We do not allow it, but we still teach that those who practiced it did so in accordance with the commandment of God. Additionally, the sealing ordinance, which is the Mormon version of marriage, is for “time and all eternity”, and was performed for polygamist unions. This is one of the most sacred ordinances of the Church; these unions can never be nullified by a change in practice. As such, the doctrine of polygamy as a God-sanctioned union will forever be a part of the Church.
There are some very important caveats to the doctrine of polygamy. A man cannot simply decide to take an additional wife; he must be directed through the proper line of authority to take one. (This is the reason the practice could be effectively stopped.) It was also required for the first wife to consent to all additional wives.
That being said, because the cessation of polygamy was a change in practice, not in doctrine, it could be reversed. As it is such a foreign concept to most people today, we members of the Church spend a great deal of effort distancing ourselves from our predecessors’ practice of it. To the extent that, if it were someday reinstated, I suspect this would be a dramatic trial of faith for many of us.
Change is a part of life, and enables progress. I believe these three examples effectively show how understanding the difference between doctrine and practice is not only important in understanding a church, but in understanding how change can occur. Moreover, as a member of a church, it is important to be able to recognize pseudo-doctrine to avoid being misled, to avoid passing it on, and to understand where change can be effected, that we might progress together.
Cast Out the Beam: Using Your Knowledge of Right and Wrong
The Bible is full of descriptions of what is right and what is wrong. For most of the Christian world, it is THE definitive source of such knowledge. So, it should be little wonder that so many Christians spend so much time defining modern ethical questions in terms of right and wrong based on Biblical knowledge. This is generally a good thing. However, it is very easy to get into a position where one sees this information as prescriptive for the world, and to demand that the world conform to this standard. That is not why this knowledge of good and evil was given.
The Hebrew religion of the Old Testament as passed down by Moses was very much a societal religion. They were told how to worship, structure their lives, prepare their food, and punish the sinners. Everything had a process and a purpose, and part of that purpose was to protect the community.
When Jesus came, the religion he taught was not about the collective, but was instead focused on the individual. He taught many of the same principles, but within a completely inverted paradigm. He taught that it is not enough to perform religion, you have to believe it. It is not enough to know the scriptures, you have to understand them. It is not enough to respect others, you have to love them. In these ways and more, He showed that the purpose of religion is to make us better people, not simply to preserve a society.
As Christians, we need to understand this shift. It is a shift from looking outward to looking inward. From compelling obedience to encouraging growth. From enforcing peace, to finding peace. We must first cast the beam from our own eyes, to help a brother with the mote in their eye.
In this light, it should be clear that the definitions of wrong and right as given in the Bible and interpreted under the New and Everlasting Gospel exist for the edification of the individual. They are not meant to be compulsory, and, in fact, would be largely impotent if made so. They are a guide for the believer to find peace and joy in this life and in serving the Lord.
It is quite natural to want to share the path to this surpassing peace and profound joy with those around us, but we cannot lead them down this path if they do not wish to come. To attempt to force the issue often results in a greater resistance to these teachings. We can only effectively share the Gospel through love.
For this reason, there are few guidelines in the new testament for how to treat others except using these two principles: love and forgiveness. Yes, we want them to obey the word of the Lord, but this should be because we love them, not because we want them to be like us. When they sin, we must forgive them, as that is what we all require for our own sins.
Until we are perfect, as only Christ ever was, we must use our knowledge of right and wrong to improve ourselves. And part of that goal for which we strive is learning to love and forgive perfectly.
Was Blind But Now I See
By Lisa Hains Barker, PhD
My sister wrote this essay a few years ago, and shared it with me. A conversation brought it to mind recently, and I asked if she would permit me to post it here, which she did. Lisa is a practicing neuropsychologist, who specializes in helping people recover from brain trauma.
“But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people: that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
I love the story of Jesus healing the man who was blind from birth (John 9), because of its wonderful insights into the Savior’s perfect ability to love and heal us. John wrote, “Since the world began was it not heard that any man opened the eyes of one that was born blind” (John 9:32). John was trying to call our attention to the distinctiveness of this particular miracle. While wondering about why this event was different from Jesus’ other healings, I realized the reason stemmed from basic principles of neuroanatomy and brain function. We don’t really see with our eyes, we see with our brain. Our eyes are sensory organs that take in variations in light, and details from the world around us, then transform that information into electrical impulses. These electrical impulses are sent to some very specific areas in the back of the brain (the visual cortex & surrounding areas) that allow us to see and make sense of what we are seeing. While our eyes and the visual cortex of the brain are formed from birth for the very particular task of seeing, our vision and understanding of what we see develop as we interact with our environment. Vision is acquired in much the same way language is, in infancy and early childhood. For example, a young child learns names for visual details like colors and shapes, and eventually that a red, round shaped object might be an apple, or a pomegranate, or even a ball. But if a person is blind from birth, those parts of the brain which are supposed to do the work of “seeing” don’t develop in the same way, and can be encroached upon by other, working senses.
Applying this modern understanding of neuroanatomy, we can appreciate the complexity of Jesus’ miracle. It is more than just the man’s eyes that needed healing. If the Savior had only healed his eyes, the man would likely have been confused by the images he was “seeing” because his visual cortex wouldn’t have developed normally. He would have no frame of reference to understand depth or color or other visual details. In fact, there are modern examples of this very problem. But that is not what happened. The Savior anointed his eyes with clay and told him to “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam.” We are then told that the man went and washed “and came seeing” (John 9:7). The Savior did more than heal his eyes, he healed his brain. He made up for a lifetime’s lack of visual input – almost instantaneously. He restored, or completely repaired the man’s whole visual system.
Isn’t that a profound foreshadowing of later events? That through his atonement, Jesus can completely make up for our lifetimes of weakness and sin; and through his death and resurrection, he will restore our living physical bodies. He can and will make us whole again.
And yet another sweet bit of familiarity comes from this story… when the man was later asked by the Pharisees, repeatedly, about how this miracle could have occurred, the man defended Jesus and defended his works; “Why herein is a marvelous thing, that ye know not from whence he is, and yet he hath opened mine eyes…If this man were not of God, he could do nothing.” (John 9:30, 33). His genuine testimony resulted in him being cast out. But John was able to capture his words, “One thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see.”
Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world
“In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
It’s days like today when the woes prophesied in the scriptures seem all too real. The horror and tragedy that can be inflicted upon many by a few is truly depressing. It is quite natural to react with anger and fear and hate. That is what they expect of us. They want nothing more than for us to despair and wail and perpetuate the bile they have heaped upon us.
Let us not give in. The weapons against terror and hate are hope and love. We can mourn the fallen and injured out of love, not fear that it could have been us. We can strive to make the world safer through understanding not revenge. We can find closure with forgiveness rather than waiting for an imperfect justice.
We cannot produce peace by reshaping the world ourselves, but we can reshape ourselves to find peace in the world. That is how we win this war. We defeat those who would terrorize us by building our own unshakable peace, knowing that we have done what we can and will not live in fear of what we cannot control or predict.
“And peace to men of good will.”