Good and evil can be defined solely in terms of the law of love… Good is whatever leads to greater love and unity in interpersonal relationships… A good act is one that leads to healing a broken relationship or growing in intimacy and meaning in existing relationships… In contrast an evil act is whatever injures or destroys a relationship; it is one that creates alienation. (Ostler, Exploring Mormon Thought Vol. 2, 111-112)
Chapter 3 in Blake’s new book is called “The Relationship of Moral Obligation and God in Mormon Thought”. In the chapter he gives overviews of several ethical theories including utilitarianism and Kant’s moral theories. In the end he concludes that a Mormon theory of ethics (which he calls an Agape Theory of Ethics) would overlap lots of other theories to create its own unique model that is made possible largely from the belief that humans are co-eternal with God.
I like this “Law of Love” idea Blake sets forth as the Mormon version of an ethical theory. I think it provides Mormons with a solid answer to questions about the ultimate source of right and wrong in the universe. One thing that makes this theory uniquely Mormon is illustrated by these comments on page 114:
The law of love is objective and universal… the law of love is not a law instituted by God, although it is a law expressive of who and what God is. … There are eternal principles which condition even God.
The only quibble I have is that Blake seems to get a little loose and overbroad in his assertions. For instance, there is this on page 112:
In contrast, an evil act is whatever injures or destroys a relationship; it is one that creates alienation. The relationships at issue can be broader than relationships between persons, for it is evil to torture animals just as it is to torture humans. It is evil to destroy the environment. The relationships at issue thus include the broadest array of relationships, the relationship I have with others, with animals, with the earth, and with myself. An evil act is one that injures relationships or which leads to alienation or separation.
Hmmm… so animals and the environment are included here too? But I don’t want a relationship with some animals. For instance, if I find a scorpion in my house I will kill it on the spot. I won’t try to befriend it or let it roam free to sting my little children. I don’t think killing a scorpion in my house is an evil act even though I have chosen to injure the relationship I have with that animal and create alienation and separation between me and it. It seems obvious to me that if non-persons (animals or the environment or whatever) are to be included in the descriptions then more explanation and clarification by Blake would be in order. What is the proper amount of love to show to a scorpion one finds in the house? How does the law of love play in that relationship?
The other problem I have with Blake’s broad statements is that they leave little room for “tough love”. Often doing the things that are in the long term best interests of other people injure our relationships with them and create alienation and separation. The very act of preaching repentance can do this. Samuel the Lamanite was accused by the Nephites of the very kind of “evil” that could be drawn from the broad definitions Blake gives of evil in this chapter — they hated him and wanted to kill him for his preaching after all. Jesus Christ himself could be (and was) accused of injuring relationships and creating this kind of short term anger, hatred, alienation and separation through his preaching too. It seems to me that Blake would do well to be more precise and qualify some of these statements by talking about long-term alienation versus short-term alienation. “Tough love” is love too but it seems to be at odds with the unqualified definitions Blake gives in this chapter.
But despite my quibbles over overbroad definitions, I think Blake is on the right track. Just one more quote from page 113:
God gives us all of the commandments to teach us how to love one another, for all of the commandments are summed up in the great command to love God with all of our heart, might, mind, and strength and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. God’s purpose in giving us the commandments is also to lead us to exalted happiness and joy unalloyed.
What do you think? Can all things that are good or evil be traced back to the building or destroying of relationships? If not then what makes good good and evil evil?