teaching & living Basic Right & Wrong… (guest thread-post)

Ethics Philosophy

If a system of beliefs, morals, ethics is to be effective or meaningful in an individual’s life, it has to Start with a Basic understanding of good-bad, right-wrong concept(s).

If one starts with detailed instructions on specifics, people will undoubtably quibble about definitions, exceptions, etc. They will tend to hang onto leaders’ senses of right/wrong rather than develop (grow) their own values & sense of guidelines as to conduct & behavior. Leaders will quickly be lulled into micro-managing people’s situations, both as to the Concepts of right/wrong, and the petty details as to application in everyday experiences.

While it might be flattering & ego-building for leaders to have people clinging to them for guidance of each & every decision that people face, it soon becomes a burden (for both sides of the equation).
Over time, people’s ability to understand basic fundamentals of good-bad, right-wrong, will likely become eroded and may almost become negligible (case by case basis).

For example, Catholics in the US formerly had a prohibition regarding eating meat on Friday. I had some Catholic friends who would wait until just past 12:01 Saturday morning to have any meals that included meat… What did that teach? Did it teach ‘the spirit’ of any concept-principle, or just that people had to be living a minute-by-minute obedience? Jews, on the other hand, live their sabbath from sundown to sundown… there’s a small bit of built-in flexibility/ambiguity to the situation.

In this, the scriptures we have give us a lot of information, but (to some degree) they’re ‘hidden’ in a lot of the day-to-day things of life; some of these are of human origin, some from God.

Examples of Basics:

Ten Commandments:
Don’t do anything that harms others: Stealing, Lying, Adultery, Murder.
Don’t do things that offend God: Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain, honor the sabbath, don’t covet thy neighbor’s goods, etc.

D&C:

Don’t do anything that harm others: “Thou shalt not speak evil of thy neighbor, nor do him any harm.”

In all cases of right/wrong, God teaches principles-concepts. He gives us a pattern.
How we apply the pattern to our everyday lives ‘in the final analysis’ is… up to us individually.

LDS are taught that consuming ‘hot beverages’ (coffee & tea) are ‘against the word of wisdom’.
I remember that from my childhood.

Recently, however, some wrinkles have crept in: ‘the Devil’s in the Details’!

What about herb tea?
What about de-caf coffee?
What about iced tea (iced coffee)?
What about hot chocolate?

A long time ago, the FP sent out a letter saying (at least suggesting) that de-caf coffee was OK. Where’s that letter today? Has anyone else heard/seen it? Is it filed somewhere in the Bishop’s office where members (& visitors) can look it up to refresh their memories, help clear up any questions?

It seems like the letters from LDS leaders don’t have much of a shelf-life; they’re read Once in church, then they disappear into history. They aren’t accessible to members, we’re supposed to hear them ONCE, memorize them, (and pass them on to future generations?)
What’s up with THAT?

Any departure from basics is compounded in the LDS experience. Many, many cultural shadows exist in the presentation that reaches people (members & visitors) who attend SM, Sunday School, F&T mtg. etc.

One of my favorites (more historic now, but still has current application) is the practice that the LDS church had of forbidding females from wearing pants at church colleges. In the LDS centered communities where these were located, there was some overhang that private colleges & schools also copied that policy-practice.

Have the peripheral matters of faith or culture ‘officially’ become distractions?
Has LDS focus on minutia eroded the motivation – ability of members to develop a functioning sense of right-wrong?

It is my thought that the highly- complex & legalistic LDS presentation of things has reached the point of being harmful; in application if not facially.
How about…’teaching correct principles, letting the people govern themselves’?

15 thoughts on “teaching & living Basic Right & Wrong… (guest thread-post)

  1. If a system of beliefs, morals, ethics is to be effective or meaningful in an individual’s life, it has to Start with a Basic understanding of good-bad, right-wrong concept(s).

    I disagree. 🙂

  2. I have thought for some time that the L.D.S. church would benefit from having a priest class, or an order of monks.

    To give the work a day members ( I would say lay, all Mormons are lay members, yes? ) a little bit of doctrinal interpretation to what ale’s them, I mean ail….

    Of course, that may make the spiritual micro management worse, but then there would be a place for the people who like being micro managed. (Like me, that is why I became a Buddhist) ;^ )

  3. I am not sure how it works in Catholicism .

    In Buddhism monks live the teachings in a way Lay Buddhists can’t. Priests are all trained in monasteries, and are themselves monks until they go to teach the Dharma at their own temple. Also, lay practitioners can go to monasteries to practice and sit around with people who think about that stuff more deeply.

  4. Guy, I’m not sure I buy your interpretation of scripture here, “In all cases of right/wrong, God teaches principles-concepts. He gives us a pattern.”

    The first example you give is the Ten Commandments. You are grouping those very specific commands (which you are ranting about in your post) into thematic messages. It doesn’t even require a close reading of the Old Testament to see a god giving strict commands on very specific issues (shellfish is bad, etc.).

    I think your main point, that principles are better than specifics, is a decent point, but that hasn’t been the approach of those claiming to speak for god. That’s precisely why the Mormon religion discourages more than one ear ring per ear or tattoos, etc. – because they like specifics. You can look for principles in these dictates, if you’d like, but such a principle doesn’t have to exist and they may even be contradictory.

    For instance, the LDS church allows agency and choice over contraceptives, but considers abortion wrong in most cases, especially as a contraceptive. If you go on principles, what you have here is a contradiction:
    1) Mormons should have agency over contraception.
    2) One type of contraception, abortion, is almost always wrong.
    Ergo, if you accept principle 1, you violate principle 2. Likewise, if you accept principle 2, you violate principle 1.

    In sum, principles seem like a nice system of morality, better than minutiae, but they are problematic too.

  5. prof:
    (in one sense)I should have deleted edited out the word “all”.

    in another sense, I believe the patterns are discernible, (but not all see them).

    Agree that LDS practice has been lost in specifics, that was my main point…

    Why do you say the principles – specifics of morality-ethics are problematic? Aren’t those what HH Dalai Lama teaches (also)?

  6. Guy, which principles are the ones we’re going to use? How do we choose those principles?

    For instance, which Dalai Lama principles do we use? Should we go with the “reinstate my power in Tibet so I can run my dictatorship” principle? Or how about the “abortion is wrong” principle? Or how about the “oral, anal, and manual sex is wrong” principle? If you’re looking for a spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama is not the one you should latch on to…

    That aside, my point is, which principles are the “right” or “correct” ones?

  7. I wonder… if Utah were suddenly invaded and violently conquered by militant theocratic Southern Baptists, if the wise, all knowing liberal intelligentsia of the USA would be willing to spill some of the same pixie dust on the likes of Boyd K. Packer, that they have so eagerly dumped on the Dali Llama.

    Maybe Brad Pitt would even star in a movie about us…

  8. It would be very difficult to wholly set aside and define which principles are right and correct. All laws, ordinances, and principles are subject to the values of the society or group to which they belong.

    However, it could be quite possible to simplify the principles from an LDS or even Christian perspective.

    Jesus went and taught principles but did not teach ppl to judge others actions and behaviors. He mentioned some obvious behaviors that could easily be associated w/ the principles he advocated but he didn’t go on on about how many steps a person took on a given day, what a person should eat, or how much facial hair or earrings a person should have. His comments on murder and adultery were grounded on principles of desire and emotion; Avoid anger and lust…love one another and be meek and humble.

    It would then be up to the ppl to decide what activities one should or should not be involved in. Thus, going back to what Joseph Smith said about principles and ppl governing themselves. However, this is nearly impossible to do if the principles=behavior because then it is not a matter of governing oneself but being governed and obeying.

    I would express some opposing opinions to this but I gotta go.

  9. Mormonzero, Jesus isn’t quite the “saint” and moral compass you make him out to be:

    -He renounces his closest relatives (Mt. 12:46-50; Mk 3:31-35; Luke 8:19-21.).
    -He constantly threatens people with eternal torture in hell.
    -He tells his disciples to turn the other cheek, but he also tells them to slay his enemies before him. (Luke 19:27).
    -He says, “Judge not, that ye be not judged” (Mt. 7:1) but judges his opponents and enemies (usually to eternal torture in Hell) all the time. “He that is not with me is against me” (Mt. 12:30).
    -He says “…but whosoever shall say, Thou fool [to his brother], shall be in danger of hell fire. (Mt. 5:22), but then Jesus himself calls people “Fool” on several occasions (Mt 23:17, Luke 11:40; 24:25).
    -Jesus is also a hypocrite when calling for others to love their enemies. Frequently he condemns his own enemies, calling them “Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers” (Mt. 3:7, 23:33, Luke 3:7) and makes a habit of threatening people with eternal torture in Hell.

    A friend of mine, also an atheist, is pretty confident that Jesus never existed but was created ex nihilo and many of the quotes and ideas attributed to him simply reflect the far-ranging and even contradictory ideas of the people who decided to create this mythical character. That interpretation makes sense to me.

    Alternative explanations:
    (1) Jesus’s teachings were written down accurately and he was simply hypocritical and regularly contradictory (plus, sometimes, just an ass – see the fig. tree story).
    (2) Jesus’s followers screwed up his teachings, making him seem hypocritical and contradictory, in which case we shouldn’t put much credence in the Bible at all.

    Take your pick…

    Guy, “first do no harm” seems like a good, general principle, until someone breaks into your home and attacks you and your family or until a country decides to invade your country. I’m pretty sure this isn’t the first principle of soldiers when headed to war (maybe for peacekeeping soldiers).

    It’s a good principle for doctors… most of the time. Cutting open someone’s chest for coronary bypass does harm: they are cutting open someone’s chest, splitting apart their rib cage, and digging around inside. There is a risk of killing the patient, though they are, of course, trying to save them. Sometimes you have to do harm to do good. In short, this principle fails under closer scrutiny as well.

  10. Do we need to back up to the concepts of right/wrong, Good & Bad?
    Do those have any other origins or basis than religious (social, community, etc?)?
    How about the ancient thinkers Aristotle, Plato, etc?

  11. It seems like the letters from LDS leaders don’t have much of a shelf-life; they’re read Once in church, then they disappear into history. They aren’t accessible to members, we’re supposed to hear them ONCE, memorize them, (and pass them on to future generations?)
    What’s up with THAT?

    Nor do some letters to general and local Church leaders, such as the 1982 counsel on oral sex:

    From the First Presidency, 5 January 1982.

    Sent to all Stake, Mission, and District Presidents, all Bishops, and all

    Branch Presidents.

    “When interviewing married persons, the one doing the interviewing should scrupulously avoid indelicate inquiries which may be offensive to the sensibilities of those being interviewed. Married persons should understand that if in their marital relations they are guilty of unnatural, impure, or unholy practices, they should not enter the temple unless and until they repent and discontinue any such practices. Husbands and wives who are aware of these requirements can determine by themselves their standing before the Lord. All of this should be conveyed without having priesthood leaders focus upon intimate matters which are a part of husband and wife relationships. Skillful interviewing and counseling can occur without discussion of clinical details by placing firm responsibility on individual members of the Church to put their lives in order before exercising the privilege of entering a house of the Lord.

    The First Presidency has interpreted oral sex as constituting an unnatural, impure, or unholy practice. If a person is engaged in a practice which troubles
    him enough to ask about it, he should discontinue it.”

    Unfortunately most of the bishops appear to have “misunderstood” this letter, including yours truly, being a bishop at the time. Note the parts I have placed in bold. How is a bishop supposed to convey this? “Brother and sister Brown, the First Presidency have advised us that oral sex in marriage is an unnatural, impure, and unholy practice, and members who engage in this are not considered temple worthy. Just thought you’d like to know. he he”

    No matter how “delicate” you phrase it, counsel like this can easily offend people – and that’s exactly what happened. After the member backlash, the FP reproved bishops for “misunderstanding” the letter, and the subject has since then been entirely dropped.

    The OP summed up this situation very well:

    While it might be flattering & ego-building for leaders to have people clinging to them for guidance of each & every decision that people face, it soon becomes a burden (for both sides of the equation).

  12. profxm – I wasn’t trying to make a “saint” out of anyone or even defend anyone. I was simply attempting to demonstrate that it is doctrinally feasible for the LDS church to keep it simple…if in fact they would prefer to emphasize the teachings in Matthew 5-7 rather than the apparent contradictory statements that you already touched on. It is all a matter of where one wishes to set up their vantage point.

    Assuming Jesus did exist, it would be very hard to really know for sure what it is that he really said…the gospels along w/ most other scripture were based on memory, oral tradition, paraphrases, and “revelatory experiences.”

    That said, from my perspective it doesn’t really matter what he truly said or even if he was a real person or not. On a personal level there are certain ideas that ring true for me…some ideas do not…this is true w/ most any politician, teacher, etc…I take what seems relevant to me and leave the rest. As I learn more, new ideas and concepts become relevant. Most any person whether religious or not does this very thing. What is “right” is usually determined by the majority but is it truly “right?”…hmm…if only values and morals were more like math.

  13. The details of everyday practice are (to me, anyway) an endless loop of distraction away from the basics… it’s become so weird that it’s as though the applications have pushed the concepts out of place. Whom does that serve?

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