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Friday, February 3, 2017

Moral Absolutes

Yes, the age old battle between moral relativism and moral absolutism.  Today that battle is more prevalent than ever before.  However, something most people miss is that neither side is entirely wrong or entirely right all the time.  That very sentence can seem to side a little with moral relativism, and I realize for sure that not everything is just black in white in this life.  Not every question can simply be answered straight forward or with a yes or no.  However, I definitely do not sympathize much with moral relativism and view it way more as a threat to mankind and the earth.

I will attempt here to show the advantages and disadvantages to both sides of this, but in the end my goal here is to help people understand why the only true morality is God's.  His perspective is perfect and only He sees absolutely everything as it really is.

Of the many examples I could use to illustrate the pros and cons of relativism vs absolutism, few to none may be as poignant or recurring these days than the ubiquitous conflict between the crowds that call themselves "pro-choice" and "pro-life" in the debate on abortion.  On the one hand people are arguing that a women has a right to choose what she does with her body, and that's true.  On the other hand people are arguing that it's murdering an innocent child and that's wrong, and that's true as well.  What neither side seems to be acknowledging is the reason why it's wrong for us to take the life of an infant, born or not.  That reason is where the conflict between relativism and absolutism comes in.  Yes, a mother has a right to choose what she does with her body, but that life inside her isn't her body.  It's the body of another human being.  Yes, it's wrong to kill, but it's not wrong to defend our families and our country from tyranny, even if that means taking a life.  So is it or isn't it wrong to murder?

The answer?  It depends... and it doesn't.  The Lord said "thou shalt not kill".  He didn't put any qualifiers on that statement and everything He speaks is valid and true.  But even He knows that there is a higher principle than truth.  To edify.  Edify: To instruct especially so as to encourage intellectual, moral, or spiritual improvement."  Doctrine and Covenants 50:23 - "And that which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness."  If the truth does not edify someone, if they are not prepared to receive it, if their perspective isn't at a point where they will be edified by it, it should not be given. Do speak the truth.  Give it boldly.  Teach it completely.  Publish it liberally.  But do it to the right audience, at the right time, in the right place.

To the LDS community this will be an age old example, but lets look at why God told Nephi to kill Laban.  In this instance, would keeping Laban alive be edifying to Nephi?  No.  He would not give the scriptures to Nephi, which the Lord commanded him to retrieve and when agency is misused, it is lessened until it is taken away.  Nephi's people would have suffered and, as the verses in that chapter point out, dwindled in unbelief.  Would keeping Laban alive be edifying to Jerusalem?  No.  God had already pointed out to Lehi and Jerusalem was going to be destroyed anyways very soon.  So to be honest, it was better for Laban to die before such a horrific thing happened than to suffer as a live witness to the destruction of his own city.  Would keeping Laban alive be edifying to his family?  Even then, the answer is no.  While his wife and children may not have understood the reason for his death, but when final judgement comes and they see the good that came to an entire nation (via the scriptures) because of his death, I'm sure they'll agree that it was justified, especially considering he was leading his city and his family straight down the devil's path to misery.  Really, taking his life was an act of mercy on the Lord's part through Nephi.

So when it comes to taking the life of another, unless it is edifying to all parties involved (and the Holy Ghost confirms it as such), the morally correct answer is don't do it.

Let's look at same gender unions.  I don't want to call it marriage because marriage was defined by God to be a legal (and preferably spiritual) covenant and bond between a man and woman, so anything else by that standard isn't marriage.  Therefore, what some people call "same sex marriage" is immoral.  However, does this mean that we should be parading around to everyone who chooses to participate in or support that kind of thing and tell them they are immoral without regard to the individual and their circumstances?  No.  Even though it's true, if their minds aren't prepared to hear it, it will not edify them.  It may only cause them to turn against the truth more vigorously than before making it take that much longer to be prepared for the truth than it would have if patience was applied initially.  As the scriptures point out, the Lord works by small and simple things to accomplish His purposes.  He works to prepare people's minds to be ready to receive the truth and how well they do or do not work with Him to be ready will dictate if, when and how we should teach the truth to them and encourage them to follow it.  The Lord knows their heart and knows perfectly what will edify them and when.

Consider for a moment if your undeveloped pallet had tasted a raspberry for the first time and it was too sour for your liking.  (I saw a video with a kid who had that very thing happen).  Someone would have a hard time convincing you to try it again for a long time.  However, if the person who offered it to you, knowing the benefits but having patience, waited to offer it to you until your pallet was developed enough to enjoy the flavor, you'd forever remember that "raspberry = good".

A wise person once told me "Advice is like snow; the softer it falls the longer it dwells upon, and the deeper it sinks into the mind."

However - and this is where I put a different twist on things - this does not mean we should be hyper focused on making sure we please everyone. Nor does it mean that the only time we tell someone the truth is if it will make them happy.  Do you think repentance is supposed to be feel 100% wonderful and peaceful and butterflies and rainbows, etc.?  I don't think so.  Certain kinds of suffering are, believe it or not, edifying.  Look at Ghandi for example.  When his people were at war with each other (unfortunately I cannot find the official source of this), he decided to fast until, in desperation to keep their leader alive, they stopped fighting and there was peace.  This kind of suffering, on Ghandi's part, was edifying to an entire nation and to himself, since sacrifice is the highest form of love.

The same goes for repentance.  It is supposed to involve a motivational type of suffering, encouraging the repentant sinner to sin no more, thus enabling them to become more like Christ in all His might, majesty and glory.  Of course, there is the kind of suffering that was described in Mormon 2:13, "their sorrowing was not unto repentance, because of the goodness of God; but it was rather the sorrowing of the damned, because the Lord would not always suffer them to take happiness in sin."  The truth wasn't edifying to those people because the more they heard of it, the more they fought against it and it was actually harmful and damning to them.  But for the repentant sinner, the Godly sorrow experienced during repentance is quite edifying because causes in them "a mighty change... in [their] hearts, that [they] have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually." (Mosiah 5:2)

So not all edification feels pleasant.  Either way, the bottom line here is as follows.  If something does not edify all parties involved according to the dictates of the Father through the Holy Ghost, it is wrong.  I will say this though.  Certain things are always wrong, no matter what.  Breaking a promise we make with God to follow Him, for any reason, is wrong.  In the LDS community we are reminded each week when we partake of the sacrament, that we have made promises to God to "take upon [us] the name of [His] Son, Jesus Christ, and always remember Him, and keep His commandment which He has give [us]."  

Some covenants are higher priority than others or encompass others.  A few weeks ago, my wife's sister's celebration of life (in lieu of a funeral) was scheduled on a Sunday at a time that meant missing church to attend.  At first, I had heavy reservations about going, thinking "I have to keep my covenants to my Father in Heaven to attend church meetings and fulfill my calling as ward organist".  However, upon discussion with my wife and other trusted sources, I realized that I was forgetting the principle taught by the Savior, when He said "inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my bretheren, ye have done it unto me".  The principle here is that by missing that event, where no one was asking me to forsake a habit of going to partake of the sacrament at church every week, I would be putting those at church who depended on me as the organist ahead of my wife, who depends on me for moral and emotional support in her time of need; and her needs need to take higher priority than ward needs.  They found someone else to fill in for that week and everything was fine.  And I also kept my covenant to always remember Him by remembering the covenant I made with He and my wife in the temple, therefore attending His sister's event as well.  He suffered for my wife's loss and felt it the same way she did, so by supporting her first, I also kept my promise to Him.

Of course, if I was asked to put something to do with family before church on a more consistent basis, that would be wrong to go along with that because the Savior also taught "He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me."

There are countless situations where there is grey area in what may or may not be morally right.  I firmly believe abortion in 99.9999999% (rough estimate there) of cases is wrong.  I firmly believe that gay unions are wrong.  However, since everyone is different and God knows that each of His children have a wide range of spiritual capacity, in understanding, comprehension and depth (3 different things), learning to discern the right way to approach something for one person as opposed to another requires lots of practice aligning our hearts and minds with the Holy Ghost.

In expressing frustration, pain or fear, for example, I need to hear someone say and provide evidence, perhaps with a similar experience, that they understand. Maybe an "that totally happened to me, too", or an "I feel the same way!"  That tells me that someone else knows how it feels, even if not from my perspective.  My wife on the other hand, hates hearing things like that.  To her those kinds of comments feel like they are saying "Me too! Look at me, give me the attention" in the middle of what she is saying.  She prefers to have people say "I'm so sorry, I can't imagine how hard that must be for you.  I've never been through that."  She says it helps her feel like her problems are unique, so that makes her and her situation special.  So the morally right thing to say to me in time of crisis is the wrong thing to say to her and vice versa.  I really does depend on the person.

As alluded to earlier, somethings are just right almost always or even 100% always or just wrong to the same degree.  Infidelity in marriage always has been and always will be 100% wrong in all circumstances.  Putting our relationship with the Lord first has always been and will always be 100% right in all circumstances.

Just keep in mind that edifying is better than merely speaking or enforcing the truth if it's not done in the right way, to the right person, at the right time.