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How delightfully subversive, Brad!

August 7, 2009

When Brothers: A Speculative Drama in One Act first hit BCC, it seemed too long. So I didn’t read it. Now, I’ve come back to look at it more deeply. And I am impressed. I must commend BCC on its A+ cast of writers.

But I was also intrigued. Why? Because Brad had written something rather delightfully (yet tastefully) subversive. To ***spoil*** it (although if you read far enough, it should become painfully obvious), it is a retelling of the Mormon story of the premortal existence with its presentation of two plans of salvation (or rather, two saviors). Of course, every good Mormon knows that Jesus got (and fulfilled) the job, but Satan was not a joke contender, taking a third part of the hosts of heaven.

How is it subversive though? Well…it’s in Brad’s characterization of the Satan character and his plan. Please read that entry, so you’ll know what I’m talking about.

I caught on early that “Josh” was Jesus, and Mike (Adam/Michael? maybe?) and Josh’s brother Iblis is Satan/Lucifer (watch other Christians flip out because of the Jesus-Satan brother thing). Yet, surprisingly, I sympathized (a bit) with Satan’s plans. Mike’s argument for his father’s plan seemed a bit unsound and foreign from the orthodox LDS telling of it.

For example, Mike says in defense of his Father’s plan:

People must think to become like father. Under your plan, you, as leader, will be the only one who needs to do any thinking. To equate blind obedience and mindless submission with the kind of freedom capable of turning men into gods is a mistake of the highest order.

While this kind of thinking can be found in Mormonism (and it would make sense that a writer at a place like By Common Consent would espouse it), as even Brad’s commenters note, this paragraph could also be seen as a stinging indictment of the church. Because you can find plenty of authoritative statements where general authorities do highlight virtue in obedience and submission, and note that only the Brethren need think.

Or how about this? (emphasis added)

But the gods became such not by simply meeting some list of technical requirements, regardless of means. It’s not about just crossing the finish line, even if you’re dragged across, knees bent and arms folded, by a stronger runner. It’s about becoming, through the process of the race, the kind of being capable of walking across. It’s not just about being able to learn what’s right because you know who to ask; it’s about learning to discern it for yourself.

Again, I can recognize the discomfort this statement causes (but also how a liberal member could back it up authoritatively.)

Meanwhile, when we look at what Iblis/Satan says,

…The Spirit will tell them to follow me, to obey me. That simplifies things considerably. Father’s house is a house of order. We can’t have a chaotic mess of individuals trying to discern vital things for themselves, misunderstanding, misinterpreting, every man an oracle unto himself. We have to streamline access to father’s will and power. Make the whole thing efficient. ‘Order’ means that everyone fits in a proper place on the chain of command, everyone submits to a higher authority.

A couple things strike me…1) This is what the church actually does espouse. 2) If it were true, this would be more equitable. It would make sense if true doctrines were apparent to any who asked, if access to the Father’s will were streamlined (and some religious practitioners do believe such…if you don’t get an answer, you’re just “not praying well enough.”) And as Mike cries that people shouldn’t have their free will taken away, Iblis continually assures:

I’m not taking anything. I’m asking for them to freely give it. To choose me. To have faith in me, in my ability to make things work. Obedience is the first law of heaven. The only choice that matters is the choice to obey, to turn over to me, as father’s chosen servant, as one having proper authority, and superior knowledge. It’s a single choice, a choice to submit, to trust, to have faith that I see what they don’t – and it’s the most important choice any of them will ever make. Obedience doesn’t eliminate freedom; it is freedom’s ultimate expression.

Now, seriously! Change this to being about Jesus (or insert religious figure here for other religions) and I bet many people would wholeheartedly agree! It permeates through other LDS doctrines too (e.g., does the Word of Wisdom limit us? No, it is the ultimate expression of freedom. If you didn’t follow the word of wisdom, you’d truly be enslaved by addiction!)

So Satan and Jesus seem level, except Satan’s way is guaranteed (and would strike people as equitable), and God’s is risky. ACTUALLY, I wonder if psychological and economic hypotheses about risk tolerance can help here. Ceteris paribus, do more people favor a highly risky gambit for a big payout or a big loss, or do they favor a safe gambit for a reduced payout or loss? (Note: the Mormon idea of heaven, which is surprisingly universalist [you have to seriously do something wrong to get to Outer Darkness] mitigates most of the loss, to the credit of the church.) As Iblis notes:

Dad’s way is unacceptably risky. Virtually assured to fail, precisely because it presumes that people can be trusted to consistently choose right. We’re not talking about a risk that resources will be allocated across a marketplace in a less-than-efficient manner. We’re talking about people’s lives, their eternities, everything.

Isn’t this criticism classic? How can hell point to a just and good God…especially an eternal hell? How does free will solve anything, when it, combined with a sinful nature, actually seem more of an indictment?

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  1. Obedience does seem to be number one in the church. Especially when we get Apostles telling “warm fuzzy” stories about how a young man dumped his fiancee who was too slow to obey the prophet by removing her second pair of earrings.

  2. I remember first hearing that, and I thought it was supposed to be the “zing” against what you normally hear (how Molly Mormon dumped her fiance because he was not diligent in obeying the prophet and going on a mission).

    but then again, earrings don’t compare well to missions…it’s really ridiculous that a story would focus on EARRINGS

  3. I remember hearing that story and thinking: that girl sure lucked-out.

  4. ^I try to avoid psychodevout Mormon girls for the same reason.

  5. I had a crush on one of them at BYU once.

    Disappointment is rough.

  6. perhaps this is why I didn’t go to BYU. Got to avoid even the appearance of devotion.

    I should tweet that.

  7. Wow. And here I thought that Mormons who refuse to marry repentant non-virgins were bad.

  8. I suppose it’s possible the guy just didn’t know how to dump her. So he thought earrings would be a good “out.”

  9. I hadn’t heard of this one before, so I had to go look it up. Here it is (emphasis mine):

    Sister Bednar and I are acquainted with a returned missionary who had dated a special young woman for a period of time. He cared for her very much, and he was desirous of making his relationship with her more serious. He was considering and hoping for engagement and marriage. This relationship was developing during the time that President Hinckley counseled the Relief Society sisters and young women of the Church to wear only one earring in each ear.

    The young man waited patiently over a period of time for the young woman to remove her extra earrings, but she did not take them out. This was a valuable piece of information for this young man, and he felt unsettled about her nonresponsiveness to a prophet’s pleading. For this and other reasons, he ultimately stopped dating the young woman, because he was looking for an eternal companion who had the courage to promptly and quietly obey the counsel of the prophet in all things and at all times. The young man was quick to observe that the young woman was not quick to observe.

    Seth, you know that mini-debate you just had with Jay at Tim’s blog on blindly obeying the prophet? I hereby declare you the loser.

    Also, reading this quote makes me want to put more piercings in my ears, and I freaking hate earrings. Damn you, David A. Bednar!

  10. “Sometimes there are winners, sometimes there are losers. I could never prevail against so many poozers.”

    Dr. Seuss

  11. I wonder if Bednar regrets that talk now…

    Or maybe his infamous “pickle analogy.”

  12. Andrew, the whole discussion about Jesus’ plan versus Satan’s plan reminds me of your mystically-inclined father. Western mystics will probably understand me when I say that the Messiah and the Serpent are indistinguishable.

    In any case, the closer I look at the two plans, the less I find to differentiate them.

  13. How delightfully gnostic, Jonathan

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