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Iron Rods and Liahonas, Carrot People and Stick People

December 4, 2008

Mormons love classification and checklists. You’re worthy or you’re not worthy…and how can you tell? With a list of questions for that temple recommend interview! You drink coffee or you don’t. You support and sustain the leaders as Prophet, Seers, and Revelators, or you don’t. Etc.,

There’s been this popular dichotomy for members going around that’s wholly unrelated to temple interviews, however…it’s actually neat…you can be an Iron Rod or a Liahona. Richard Poll’s article was pretty clever, I must admit, so maybe that’s why the Iron Rod/Liahona dichotomy persists. But I don’t really want to talk about that right now. You’ll just have to read that article if you don’t already know.

No, instead, I wanted to talk about a new way of looking at things…I hope it’ll catch on, but who knows — what if there are…stick people and carrot people? I like Rebecca’s way of looking at things…it seems very identifiable…just like the iron rod and liahona dichotomy. I can clearly see people who, in stick fashion, live because they fear punishment (such as Hell). And just as well, I can see people who, living for carrots on the other end of the stick, will live because they hope for reward (such as Heaven). And the terminology is something that, like IRs and Liahonas, Mormons would easily grasp. In fact, carrots and sticks are even more understandable — no Mormon training necessary. Even investigators and nonmembers can join in the fun! For Catholics, contrast with perfect vs. imperfect contrition.

I was expecting Rebecca to go a certain direction with this dichotomy…but as I noted in my comment to that article, I think she disappointed me (but actually forced me to think) by going in a different direction.

I didn’t want to overwhelm her comment box, so I’ll explain myself here: I had a slightly different outlook on sticks and carrots, and unlike Rebecca, I feel I’d be a carrot.

Carrots act because they hope a better world. Sticks, on the other hand, are motivated by fear of a worse life.

Wait…where did my definition differ? Well, a minor difference is that I feel that the motivations don’t have to apply to an afterlife. Carrots can be motivated by a hope that this world will be better, and sticks can be motivated by fear that this world will be worse. This might be just a tad incompatible with Rebecca’s message or with another’s religious message (after all, one might be fearful of Hell, but utterly unafraid of global warming.)

But this is not where I felt the major differences were…I thought that Rebecca’s more involved characterization of what a carrot might believe was…inconsequential to the argument. For example, If I have hope for a better world, and that is what motivates me to act, that doesn’t necessarily mean that I believe if I end up with a worse world, I should be allowed to progress upward. So, carrots who believe in the Mormon view of heaven don’t necessarily have to believe that movement to higher kingdoms is possible or desirable to still have a hope for a better world. For secular example…if I am motivated by hope for a better world (a world where I am more educated from studying), that doesn’t mean I will believe that teachers should allow me to do-over tests I’ve performed poorly at. Going further, I don’t necessarily have to believe that my hope requires an ideal situation — I don’t have to believe that few people or no people will go to Hell, or, back to the exam, that my teacher will give a curve and no one will fail. (In fact, if I delude myself to believe that, I will be setting myself up for major disappointment.)

Although Rebecca accepts her stick-ness, the concept baffles me. Living to avoid punishment seems so…basic. But when we move to live to improve…ah…maybe I’m just overthinking things. But, I don’t study for tests to avoid failing the tests. And I actually don’t study for the reward of passing. I study because I seek the reward of learning. If I kick the test’s butt, I learned. If I fail, I still learned.

If Hell is the only thing keeping me in the church, then I’m not going to be in the church. The church has to have a practical, affirmative purpose that personally appeals to draw me in.

I find it unfortunate when people say that but for the idea of Hell, they would not be moral. They say, “if there were no Hell or God…I might be a mass murderer!” I certainly hope people have better reasons not to murder than just a fear of Hell.

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