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Expedience

March 10, 2009

I remember a day that kinda changed the way I thought. It was in pre-AP English class (that was an awesome class with an awesome teacher, by the way), and we were doing analogy drills (this teacher still gives analogy drills even though the SAT, PSAT, and other tests do not use these).

And I remembered one day that there was an analogy that I couldn’t get I couldn’t remember the exact first pair, but it was something that was supposed to be antonyms. So the first pair was something blatantly obvious, like

hot:cold

OK, so I can deal with that…but that was only one half of the analogy…the rest was:

hot : cold :: expedient : ???

and obviously, the question was to pick which, out of a lineup of word choices, was antonymous with expedient.

I don’t remember getting it right. I had a very different idea of what the term expedient meant. So, when the teacher graded it and put the correct answer as moral or correct, I was astounded.

How could expedience be the polar opposite of morality?

I guess I should explain. In Mormon culture and Mormon religion, expedience is a very good thing. Whatever you think of the Book of Mormon’s authorship, expedience is referred to something like 110 times in the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants. And when it is mentioned, it is generally used as a good quality. For example, in Alma 34, it reads:

9 For it is expedient that an aatonement should be made; for according to the great bplan of the Eternal God there must be an atonement made, or else all mankind must unavoidably perish; yea, all are hardened; yea, all are cfallen and are lost, and must perish except it be through the atonement which it is expedient should be made.

10 For it is expedient that there should be a great and last asacrifice; yea, not a bsacrifice of man, neither of beast, neither of any manner of fowl; for it shall not be a human sacrifice; but it must be an cinfinite and deternal esacrifice.

13 Therefore, it is expedient that there should be a great and last sacrifice, and then shall there be, or it is expedient there should be, a astop to the shedding of bblood; then shall the claw of Moses be fulfilled; yea, it shall be all fulfilled, every jot and tittle, and none shall have passed away.

And in general, it is used in a positive context.

And yet, in general usage, expediency and expedient has a particular definition of being suitable for a certain purpose, or even worse, conducive to advantage or interest, as opposed to being right.

I mean, let’s look at the dictionary:

2. conducive to advantage or interest, as opposed to right.

    1. Serving to promote one’s interest: was merciful only when mercy was expedient.
    2. Based on or marked by a concern for self-interest rather than principle; self-interested.

…and so on.

There are arguments that “nothing but the right can ever be expedient,” but it seems that more often, the purpose of the idea of expediency was to be contradistinguished from rightness. Maybe it’s just a time/culture issue.

The thing is, when I have heard the use of expedience in the church, it certainly has meshed with an idea of being conducive to advantage or interest. I mean, maybe it’s just me, but I think people kinda recognize that the church cares about its organization and have things run smoothly. Processes should be expedited instead of instigated and mired down. There is an idea that there can be too much truth.

I just wonder if this is something particular to LDS culture. Because I know for sure that I never thought that something that was expedient could be contradistinguished from what was “right” until I got that question wrong on a quiz. But then again, as a pragmatist, I tend to believe that what is useful is more important than what is right anyway…since in some cases, I’m not even sure if we can know what is “right,” but in general, we can more easily know what is useful to us.

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6 Comments
  1. Some of the folks who make those analogy tests have funny ideas about the relationships between words. I wouldn’t consider ‘expedient’ and ‘moral’ antonyms, at all. I guess in some cases what is expedient may be the opposite of what is right, but this is certainly not true in every case!

  2. well, I mean, in multiple definitions, the antonymous (or approximately antonymous) nature is in the definition. So, I mean, that’s the baffling part.

  3. Goldarn permalink

    Blame it on Joseph Smith’s lack of english skills, and leave it at that.

    The wordiness of the BoM stands as evidence. A good writer could have written it better.

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