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Re: Moral Discipline, Part II

October 10, 2009

This is the second part of my comments addressing Elder D. Todd Christofferson’s General Conference talk “Moral Discipline.” First part is here.

As discussed before, Elder Christofferson’s general message is that we must determine what is right and do it, even in difficult situations. This is the definition of moral discipline — to develop the internal control needed to do such. When we fail to discipline ourselves, then we will bring upon ourselves increased external controls — laws and regulations and rules.

But Elder Christofferson’s message isn’t open ended…rather, like the other speakers (and I’ve covered Hales and Scott so far), he is advocating a specific conclusion — and his conclusion is that moral discipline is discipline for the actions, behaviors, and attitudes that Christ — and the church — have established. Let’s look at a quotation:

In the end, it is only an internal moral compass in each individual that can effectively deal with the root causes as well as the symptoms of societal decay. Societies will struggle in vain to establish the common good until sin is denounced as sin and moral discipline takes its place in the pantheon of civic virtues.5

I…actually agree. But this message actually pretty firmly puts me at variance with the church. If only my internal moral compass can establish the common good, then the church must lose against my internal compass whenever the two disagree. The church will struggle in vain to establish its common good, but it will fall against my internal moral compass as long as I have moral discipline in place in my pantheon of civic virtues. If not, I may be taken in, and bring misery upon myself as I get off my track.

(Then again, many people do agree with the church’s ideas of virtue and sin. So perhaps, the church need not speak to me and others like me — the disaffected — because they have enough members who resonate with their message.)

The big part of Christofferson’s speech relates to comments about instilling the Gospel and Christ into the rising generation:

I have heard a few parents state that they don’t want to impose the gospel on their children but want them to make up their own minds about what they will believe and follow. They think that in this way they are allowing children to exercise their agency. What they forget is that the intelligent use of agency requires knowledge of the truth, of things as they really are (see D&C 93:24). Without that, young people can hardly be expected to understand and evaluate the alternatives that come before them. Parents should consider how the adversary approaches their children. He and his followers are not promoting objectivity but are vigorous, multimedia advocates of sin and selfishness.

Seeking to be neutral about the gospel is, in reality, to reject the existence of God and His authority. We must, rather, acknowledge Him and His omniscience if we want our children to see life’s choices clearly and be able to think for themselves. They should not have to learn by sad experience that “wickedness never was happiness” (Alma 41:10).

This is a huge message. Christofferson establishes that we cannot be neutral as we let children “choose” on this crucial issue…because if they choose incorrectly (which they are likely to if they don’t have “knowledge of the truth,”) then they will learn by “sad experience” that “wickedness never was happiness.”

But I’m wondering why Elder Christofferson feels he must give this advice.

The way I see it…honest, deep inquiry will yield good fruit. If the gospel truly is good, then we will find it, if we are honest seekers. We will understand — from the feelings we experience — that our contrary decisions are “wickedness” and “wickedness never was happiness,” and in trying to escape the misery, we will seek anything that brings joy and peace. If Christofferson is right, the only thing that should be able to truly pacify us will be the gospel. Nothing else will satisfy if the Christ truly is the way, truth, and the light. So, why should Elder Christofferson want parents to shield their children from sad experience? Experience is how people learn and know. The youth cannot know Christ based on borrowed testimony. They cannot know wickedness never was happiness based on borrowed testimony. They can only know these things because of a personal testimony gained from experience with these precepts.

I think I know why Elder Christofferson gives this advice.

It is because he knows that the Gospel will not uniformly and objectively show itself to be good to all…we can’t just evaluate all the information and determine the Gospel to be an obvious bargain. Rather, we must take on faith that there is an afterlife that operates in the way the church says it does (any other afterlife wouldn’t help the case) that will make it worthwhile. Christofferson knows that “wickedness” isn’t defined similarly for everyone, that all internal compasses do not point to the church’s definition. So if we let children make up their own minds about the gospel and the church, then some will come to realize that church definitions of wickedness don’t necessarily mesh with reality. Some “sins” don’t actually seem to bring misery to its participants.

But these children won’t be blind…they will be able to discern misery from joy, certainly. They simply may diverge critically with the church on defining what will bring what.

I fear that Elder Christofferson is setting up for terrible apostasy in the church. For if children are forced a gospel that they do not believe in and cannot experience for themseles, then that will become the sad experience that teaches them that wickedness never was happiness. And they will learn that the church, in its stifling, limiting, way, is the wickedness that never was happiness. And then they will leave with knowledge of the misery that they know to avoid.

When I see people who struggle in the church, prostrating themselves for the standards and values and morals that they don’t believe in, racking themselves in guilt and misery, I wonder what Elder Christofferson says to these individuals’ “sad experiences.” I wonder when these members will recognize their unhappiness and know that no matter how hard they try, they cannot turn wickedness into happiness.

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  1. na'me phromimos permalink

    I enjoyed reading this, and I absolutely agree with your conclusion. Love the blog! Glad to have found it!

  2. amen amen amen!

    As far as the internal compass, I absolutely believe that most active mormons are self-deceived cafeteria mormons. They’re told they have to partake of everything in the dining hall, and they think they are doing so…but as I’ve explained my exit to friends/family – because my internal compass is telling me something different than the church – they’ve almost all responded with something like, “you don’t really have to accept it all Sarah; we certainly don’t!”

    And amen about the honest inquiry thing. I thought, how ironic that intelligent use of agency requires knowledge of things as they really are. Like, what about all the scraps of history being whitewashed and brushed under the table???

  3. I too believe that many members are Cafeteria Mormons but don’t believe it…but isn’t this part of the problems…if people are cafeteria Mormons but will deny it and then continue to assert that they and everyone else should be full believers…then how can change in the culture occur so that people feel *ok* with *openly* partaking in only some items of the cafeteria.

    I can predict the response to whitewashed/brushed under the table histroy. These scraps don’t reflect reality as they are. Instead, they are illusions and deceptions. True but not useful, right?

  4. Guest Writer 800+ permalink

    Really enjoyed this post.

    The last two paragraphs were dynamite.

  5. yelnkek permalink

    I too agree – Who is he saying what I should or shouldn’t be doing! I hate it when somebody else with a different belief system tells me what is Moral or not. I like looking at child pornography and abusing children, and when society puts restraints on me as to what is moral behavior, it really chafs my shorts!

  6. yelnkek

    somehow, I get the feeling that if all society does is chafe your shorts, then you’re just going to have to deal with chafed shorts. The alternatives are much worse.

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  1. Re: Moral Discipline, by Elder Christofferson « Irresistible (Dis)Grace
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