Blindness and Obedience

September 16, 2013    By: Jeff G @ 11:46 am   Category: Ethics,Personal Revelation,Scriptures

A basic distinction which I draw  in my attempts to undermine intellectualism, a distinction which I think serves to highlight the contingent nature of the intellectual’s values, is between a pre-modern/religious worldview and a modern/secular worldview.  Very briefly, the ways in which statements and actions are justified within a pre-modern, religious worldview include appeals to authority, tradition and revelation.   By contrast, within a modern-secular worldview statements and actions are justified by appeals to egalitarianism, logical coherence and empirical data.  So many of the debates in the bloggernacle can profitably be construed as a competition as to which of these worldviews is the uniquely right way to view some phenomenon.

One such phenomenon which I would like to briefly discuss is that of loyal obedience to the prophets.  Those who see the world through secular lenses are very ambivalent toward such a loyal obedience.  They worry that any obedience which is too loyal, meaning that it is not constrained by the secular values mentioned above, amounts to a blind abdication of personal responsibility amounting to “blind obedience’.  Phrased differently, they worry that if these secular values are not able to constrain loyal obedience then we are left with something akin to Lucifer’s plan wherein we don’t really have any responsibility or choice worthy of those words.  This worry is only valid, however, if the loyal obedience to the prophets is not constrained by anything at all and to be sure, secular intellectuals do think that if their values do not constrain obedience to the prophets, then nothing does.

Such, however, is simply not the case.  Remember, that the vast majority of human action throughout history has been constrained not by secular values, but by religious values.  Significantly, within the religious worldview of which Mormonism is very much a part loyal obedience to authority is not the only value – although it certainly is one of them.  Within the religious worldview, we are not only expected to follow our duly appointed authorities, but we are also expected to constrain this obedience by an active and frequent consultation with tradition (as found in the scriptures, moral institutions, etc.) and revelation (by way of personal prayer).  Consequently, the loyal obedience to the prophets within the religious tradition is by no means blind, even if it is not at all constrained by egalitarianism, logical coherence or empirical data.  If anything, the faithful follower is able to see the true nature of their obedience better than the secularist whose vision is continually clouded by values which were never meant to be co-exist alongside a loyal obedience to the prophets.

46 Comments »

  1. “the vast majority of human action throughout history has been constrained not by secular values, but by religious values”

    This doesn’t really fit with how I imagine most people at most times in most places living. Unless by religious values you mean the ax/sword/gun/law suit the neighbor uses to protect his food and gold.

    Comment by Owen — September 16, 2013 @ 12:46 pm

  2. Remember, I talking about how people justify their speech and actions, not the speech and actions themselves.

    Comment by Jeff G — September 16, 2013 @ 1:31 pm

  3. Jeff, just so I’m clear, are you advocating that, under a “pre-modern/religious worldview,” it is appropriate for a member to disobey prophets if he/she judges that the prophet’s teachings conflict with either (i) the member’s interpretation of scriptural and moral traditions and/or (ii) the member’s personal revelation? That’s what it seems like you are saying. But if so, that leaves a hole big enough for every “modern/secular” member of the church I know to drive a truck through. (C.f. Brother Snuffer)

    Comment by Dave K — September 16, 2013 @ 2:05 pm

  4. Humm,I think you’ve roughly defined the iron rodders here but that leaves out the intelligentsia who you are apparently arguing are wrong and those who follow the spirit; But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.

    Comment by Howard — September 16, 2013 @ 3:09 pm

  5. Btw the pre-modern/religious worldview assumes a static gospel when we know there is more to come! If it assumed a progressive gospel it wouldn’t be so resistant to change.

    Comment by Howard — September 16, 2013 @ 3:18 pm

  6. Thanks again Jeff.

    In an attempt to both explain and understand, I am one who adheres to the pre-modern/religious worldview – particularly within Mormonism. For me the authority is clear – FP and Q12. The tradition is also quite accessible and reasonable clear. The revelation is the spiritual experience of the subject, as it should be. A voluntary concent.

    For me it seems the modern/secular is less certain/more risky for lack of a better description. Egalitarianism has significant implications that seem incompatible with freedom. Logical coherance seems pretty dubious at times. And empirical data seems forever incomplete.

    So which position is most blind?

    Comment by Eric Nielson — September 16, 2013 @ 3:20 pm

  7. The least blind position is following the Spirit.

    Comment by Howard — September 16, 2013 @ 3:29 pm

  8. Howard (5),

    I think the distinction is where the change comes from.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — September 16, 2013 @ 4:15 pm

  9. So you mean humankind isn’t becoming more enlightened, we’re all still still stuck at the cavemen level except for what is written provided it’s interrupted as literally as possible without insulting our intelligence too much! What do you make of parables Eric?

    Comment by Howard — September 16, 2013 @ 4:21 pm

  10. No, and no.

    Many parables have the interpretation given along with them. I can make of them whatever I will. But my personal take does not mean all that much to anyone but me – nor should it. Prophets and apostles have given quite a bit of insight into parables, and these carry, appropriately, a lot of weight within the church.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — September 16, 2013 @ 4:31 pm

  11. Howard,

    The difference between the world views is not one of change vs. non-change. It is one of how changes are to be justified.

    Comment by Jeff G — September 16, 2013 @ 5:11 pm

  12. I see your point, I believe change in the form of growth is implied by the gospel and by the nature of parables that speak to multiple levels of understanding and as time collects humankind is slowly becoming more Christlike. For example killing people in shear numbers peaked some time ago having risen do to technology and is now in significant decline.

    Comment by Howard — September 17, 2013 @ 7:38 am

  13. Re: #4 “But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.”

    By which Paul means, as always, the Law of Moses. He’s not saying that if you follow the spirit, you are not subject to law. After all, for “all kingdoms have a law given” and there is “no space in which there is no kingdom”. Therefore, there is no space without law. All things are subject to the law pertaining to the kingdom in which they abide.

    Comment by Eso — September 20, 2013 @ 5:36 pm

  14. Howard,

    Getting back to an old discussion (since this one never really got off the ground)…

    I find it extremely disingenuous for feminists to claim (as you have, I can’t speak for all feminists) that they are pushing for questions rather than answers on the ordination issue. The movement is pushing to ASK if they belong at the priesthood session; they simply conclude that they belong there. Over at FMH they do not speak of agitating for questions, but rather come right out and say that they are agitating for ordination. This is exactly like what Martin Harris did with the 116 pages. This is the very definition of usurping the prophets prerogative.

    Whether you agree with their cause or not, I think the boat has clearly sailed on the whole “we are humbly and innocently trying to put a question before the Lord” charade. Malarkey!

    Comment by Jeff G — September 23, 2013 @ 11:38 am

  15. In fairness Jeff, Martin Harris wasn’t wrong because he asked but because he wouldn’t take no for an answer. If anything, the Martin Harris story tells us that there’s nothing wrong with petitioning for a direct revelation on a topic of interest. Arguably, Harris had a much more trivial reason to petition than do these feminists.

    Comment by DavidF — September 23, 2013 @ 3:26 pm

  16. Trivial by whose standards? I would hardly call the entire existing manuscript for the BoM a trivial matter.

    And furthermore, I would suggest that Harris’ behavior can be construed along different lines: His sin was in not respecting whose decision is really was. He went to Joseph “knowing” what the right answer when the fact was that what he “knew” has exactly zero relevance of any kind. The decision was not Harris’ to make.

    On that note, does anybody actually think that these activists are interested in any answer which they don’t already “know”? Do you think that they have the proper respect for whose decision it is to make?

    Comment by Jeff G — September 23, 2013 @ 4:03 pm

  17. Trivial in the sense that he wanted the manuscript to prove to others that he wasn’t being irresponsible. That’s sort of trivial.

    Did Harris know what the right answer was? How do you know? You can’t just add assertions like they were facts to make the story fit your position.

    Furthermore, what makes you certain that the activists know that women shouldn’t get the priesthood? Do you think they’re just trying to stir up trouble for…the fun of it? As for whether they have the proper respect, perhaps they do. You seem to think that they already know that their cause is wrong, they’re trying to stir up trouble, and they’re putting pressure on the prophet to achieve this silly agenda. But maybe they’re going to the prophet because he’s the one to approach, and this is merely one way of doing it.

    I’m not defending the OrdainWomen movement (I assume that’s what we’re both talking about), but you seem to be confident of claims that I’m not so sure are warranted.

    Comment by DavidF — September 23, 2013 @ 4:20 pm

  18. Jeff G,
    How does one present a question to the brethren? Via. one’s Bishop? Of course not because we all know that request will never actually reach the brethren!

    The current method is to present a question via. the press including the bloggernacle or by activism. Ordain Women recently presented a question to the brethren; can women attend the Priesthood session of GC? They did this by announcing their intention to attempt to attend. The church responded by announcing that LDS general priesthood meeting to be broadcast live and online for the first time! In this way a dance of communication and a method of dodging and weaving has been created.

    This method is probably far more efficient for the brethren because it collates, prioritizes and better defines requests from the requester view point than working through a lot of individual requests and they know they don’t need to respond to issues that have too little support to pose the question in this way. In addition by responding wordlessly as has been their custom they preserve deniability allowing the orthodox to claim the whole apparent interaction was nothing more than a simple coincidence in timing! So in this way almost everyone but the anti-activists win! After all if the brethren say it’s so, it’s so, isn’t it?

    Comment by Howard — September 25, 2013 @ 7:13 am

  19. I do agree with Howard that we’re feeling some of the negative effects of rapid growth in the church.

    Anyone could go to Joseph Smith and ask him to receive a revelation on, say, topics in the Book of Revelation. I remember reading a story which showed that even until Heber J. Grant’s presidency, the average member could visit his house and talk with him. Expansion and corporatization have made this essentially impossible. There’s no way to directly approach a high level member of the church with a question.

    That’s why I’m not necessarily for these Ordain Women protests, but I can’t bring myself to fault them. What else do they do?

    We’re called on to ask, seek, knock, and so forth. But if we’re told to stop asking and be obedient, then I’m not sure how we can accomplish the call to ask.

    On the other hand, I’m skeptical that the priesthood broadcast has anything to do with Ordain Women. These sorts of decisions take months, if not longer. I’m not sure Ordain Women has been relevant long enough to have caused this decision. It’s a quaint narrative, but I don’t know if I buy it.

    Comment by DavidF — September 25, 2013 @ 9:49 am

  20. These sorts of decisions take months… Well, I suspect within the church they generally do but technically this would have been very easy to accomplish. Either way it is a TV production so it changes little inside the Conference Center the only question is what do you do with the feed, send it to closed circuit or broad cast? So the most time consuming part of this change would be negotiating broadcast time and I suspect that is a higher cost the networks would love to reap and would therefore jump through hoops to accomplish it.

    Comment by Howard — September 25, 2013 @ 10:24 am

  21. Howard,

    1) You believe that the church leaders were responding to the movement when they never said so and yet you refuse to believe that the church leaders have already prayed about the movement because they never said so. Why the inconsistency? Why do you feel justified in guessing what they are doing in one case but not the other? Your response to why it would be so easy to set up a feed to various places, etc. sounds far more difficult than it would be to simply pray about it. Indeed, you make it sound like the leadership had a meeting to specifically discuss the movement and rather than praying about it, they instead set up a bunch of internet feeds. Give me a break.

    2) The reason why it is so hard to get through the the top leadership is because there are so many members… which is exactly why your concerns and opinions are of so little comparative import. In other words, going through the leadership will ensure that loud-mouthed minorities (such as this movement) are properly filtered out. Indeed, that’s why this movement has been forced to go to outside channels (in flagrant violation of priesthood authority) in order to be heard: because they are a loud mouthed minority which the priesthood rightly filters out.

    3) “Ordain Women recently presented a question to the brethren; can women attend the Priesthood session of GC? They did this by announcing their intention to attempt to attend. ” So did they ask a question, or did they decide for themselves? Which is it? We both know what the movement says its doing, but their actions clearly speak a very different story.

    4) “The current method is to present a question via. the press including the bloggernacle or by activism.” What does that even mean? Whose current method? Where did this method come from? I don’t recall any revelation or authoritative statement which says that that is the proper method.

    Comment by Jeff G — September 25, 2013 @ 10:41 am

  22. Howard,

    I’m going to describe what seems to be your position and you can feel free to agree or disagree:

    You don’t believe that the church leadership is guided by revelation on this topic.
    You believe that you (and your movement) are.
    Therefore, you believe that since they won’t listen to revelation (yet), you will get the leaders to listen to you instead.
    Ideally, the leaders will then seek confirmation of what they have heard from you and then implement the decision that you already know is right.

    If this is an accurate description, then it seems obvious to me that you have set yourself up as a prophet and priesthood leader over them!

    Comment by Jeff G — September 25, 2013 @ 10:51 am

  23. 1)Why the inconsistency? Repeated timing coloration and a church spokeswoman responded by letter to Ordain Women turning down their request for tickets but inviting them to “view the live priesthood session broadcast”. What evidence do you have to offer that “church leaders have already prayed about the movement”?

    It’s not difficult to pray but according to SWK it IS difficult and time consuming to receive revelation and the way “revelation” is done today is really group inspiration which is a lot more difficult than just praying because the goal is to get all 15 on the same page! Since inspiration is more man than God it’s easy to see that these men’s attitudes carry a lot of weight in the final decision and I haven’t noticed any feminists in the group, have you?

    2) Says you.

    3) The only thing they decided is to present themselves at the door and see what happens. Doing so clearly poses a question! This is not hard to see. The church gets it.

    4) Don’t play dumb. In Moses’ time the method was for Zelophehad’s daughters to ask Moses directly at the door of the temple. That’s not possible today but the internet gives people a voice and that can be used to approach the otherwise unapproachable. Not just TSM or the brethren but politicians as well. You must be asleep if you can’t see this.

    Comment by Howard — September 25, 2013 @ 11:09 am

  24. We cross posted. In 22 you mischaracterize my position by setting up several strawmen. Try it again after reading 23.

    Comment by Howard — September 25, 2013 @ 11:22 am

  25. SWK made it clear that God doesn’t come to man or the President of the church about these issues, rather we must approach him. And SWK made it clear that it takes months of work to receive revelation and that his biases interfered and had to be overcome. So should we expect that the brethren are enthusiastically spending months on their knees regarding these issues??? Human nature being what it is, I think not!

    Comment by Howard — September 25, 2013 @ 11:37 am

  26. Man, I hate it when people accuse others of straw-man arguments, when there is no reason to think that the accuser understands the accused’s position any better.

    1) Here’s some evidence that they’ve prayed and received an answer (it’s not conclusive, but it’s something): http://www.lds.org/church/news/elder-ballard-speaks-about-the-role-of-women-at-education-week?lang=eng

    2) Says every poll taken on the subject: http://www.deseretnews.com/article/print/865586996/LDS-Church-responds-to-priesthood-meeting-request-by-activists.html

    3) “a church spokeswoman responded by letter to Ordain Women turning down their request for tickets” So it sounds like they already got their answer regarding attending and none of them should show up, right? I mean, if they really are just asking, then they got their answer. Therefore, anybody who does show up never really was asking a question, but had already decided for themselves.

    4) Don’t play dumb. Zelophehad’s daughters went through the proper priesthood channels. They never sought public support of any kind which might be used to pressure their leaders in any way. Yes, the internet is a great method for giving voice to people within a democracy where everybody is supposed to have a voice. But the church is not a democracy. You must be asleep if you can’t see this.

    Comment by Jeff G — September 25, 2013 @ 11:45 am

  27. And what makes you so sure that your biases aren’t getting in your way? What makes you think that you’re right while the vast majority of faithful members are all clouded by “bias”?

    Of course, even if you are right, it doesn’t make any difference. By appealing seeking public support rather than taking things through the established and proper channels, you have undermined those channels by placing them in competition with others. You are eroding the very priesthood which you wish to give to females. But this, I’m convinced, is the point. It’s about pressuring the church to become like the democratic world around it, to undermine and devalue the rules which constitute the prophetic/priestly worldview.

    Comment by Jeff G — September 25, 2013 @ 11:58 am

  28. I find it interesting that for somebody who so strongly insists on the importance of revelation, you never reference a single revelation which says that going through the media/public-opinion/etc. is a legitimate alternative to going through the priesthood authority. You only talk about what SWK et al. unofficially said, etc.

    Comment by Jeff G — September 25, 2013 @ 12:32 pm

  29. I mean, if they really are just asking, then they got their answer. They received an answer to one question: Q Can they attend the priesthood? A Virtually yes, in person no. But they have another question don’t they? Their name is Ordain Women.

    What is it you assert they decided for themselves?

    Everyone’s bias gets in their way including and especially President SWK’s, that’s why dialog is important. Why especially? Because he led the church, as a prophet, seer and revelator so the membership depended on him for clear unbiased revelation. By comparison, who cares if some Deacon or blogger is biased?

    I don’t know what proper channels you are referring to. TSM isn’t accessible in the way Moses was. There is no suggestion box. The church is organized as a top down hierarchy, the only things that flow up are attendance numbers and tithing just about everything flows down including any suggestions for arc steadying. But activism appears to work!

    I find it interesting that for somebody who so strongly insists on the importance of revelation… Bla,bla, bla. you’re way too focused on what’s “official” and “unofficial” SWK wrote of his OD2 experience in a letter to his son. Are you asserting he or his son misrepresented this information?

    Comment by Howard — September 25, 2013 @ 3:07 pm

  30. “you’re way too focused on what’s “official” and “unofficial””

    Right back at ya, buddy. The church leaders has clearly prayed and reaffirmed their rejection of what the OM movement stands for. It is you who keeps insisting that their rejection isn’t “official” enough.

    To flip this coin on its head, you are not nearly concerned enough about what is and is not “official”. That statement from SWK to his son did NOT come down the priesthood channels. That’s why it simply isn’t all that binding on us.

    Let’s see if you would agree to this assessment of your position:

    You are very concerned indeed about what is and is not officially revelation. You are not, however, at all concerned about what is and is not officially priesthood authority.

    That, I think, is why you keep harping on your own personal revelation and acting as if it were somehow relevant. That is why you see no difference between quoting scripture and quoting non-canonized sources. That is why you don’t think using external channels to rally public support for your personal revelation is illegitimate.

    I don’t know if you’d would phrase it quite that way, but I think that’s about right. The problem is that the entire Joseph Smith restoration story contradicts it. The first vision, Moroni and the plates gave Joseph zero authority whatsoever to do anything church related.

    Comment by Jeff G — September 25, 2013 @ 4:06 pm

  31. ???
    Get a grip Jeff G, I wouldn’t phrase anything you wrote in 30 the way you wrote it!

    That statement from SWK to his son did NOT come down the priesthood channels. That’s why it simply isn’t all that binding on us. Binding on you? Since Joseph died there have only been 3 canonized revelations D&C 138, OD1 and OD2. We have SWK’s private communication with his son expressing his beliefs and experiences regarding OD2 and it is insignificant to you????

    I don’t know what to say Jeff, you really seem to be grasping at straws here. You would rather substitute folklore for SWK’s writings?

    Comment by Howard — September 25, 2013 @ 5:05 pm

  32. “You would rather substitute folklore for SWK’s writings?”

    No, like somebody who takes the priesthood seriously, I would rather substitute authorized statements received through the proper priesthood channels and vetted by duly authorized leaders for those private letters which have been gathered and vetted by self-appointed intellectuals.

    I never said we should only accept canonized sources. Nor did I say anything about folklore. You know, simply re-describing my claims in a way that sounds more stupid to you does not refute my argument. The more somebody accuses others of straw-man arguments, the less effort I think they make to understand others.

    Comment by Jeff G — September 25, 2013 @ 5:19 pm

  33. Enjoy your world Jeff!

    Comment by Howard — September 25, 2013 @ 5:22 pm

  34. I sure hope Zelophehad’s daughters’ descendants are getting royalties off of the use of their ancestors by latter-day feminists. I wonder why other OT stories don’t get as much mileage…

    Comment by Riley — September 25, 2013 @ 5:44 pm

  35. Loved Ardis’ comment elsewhere:

    “There’s agitation, and then there’s agitation.

    When agitation creates more heat than light, when it stirs anger and impatience and pride and demands and upset, when agitators agitate themselves out of belief, no amount of “success” in creating change is worth it, IMO. You can also call it agitation (because it has the potential of bringing a legitimate problem to the notice of someone with the right/power to solve it) when someone asks for understanding, is willing to accept counsel, and can accept “no” or “not yet” as an answer.

    It’s the wrong kind of agitation, IMO, when people bring secular principles to bear on the Church, which is anything but a secular institution. I’ve seen that play out so very many times in the history of church courts, where, because the church system was called a “court” and had some of the trappings of a secular court, participants wrongly claimed and acted as though the rules of American jurisprudence applied. They don’t.

    The same thing happens with the wrong kind of agitation: You can’t treat the Church as if it were a commercial organization with a product to sell, bringing the same kind of pressure you would bring against a car company whose ads you find sexist, or against a megastore whose treatment of third-world labor you deplore. You can draw some parallels, but not enough to make it work: a commercial organization dependent upon sales to satisfy shareholders may cave, but the Church, which answers to an entirely different CEO, cannot cave.

    Like it or not, we’re a top-down organization when it comes to doctrine and official practice. Demands for change from below — agitation — cannot work, because the bottom isn’t the source for doctrine and official practice.”

    Comment by Riley — September 25, 2013 @ 5:47 pm

  36. It’s the wrong kind of agitation, IMO, when people bring secular principles to bear on the Church, which is anything but a secular institution.

    Secular principles like blacks are not what LDS prophets once called them and they should be ordained to the priesthood?

    Comment by Howard — September 25, 2013 @ 5:53 pm

  37. Howard,

    Why don’t you articulate his argument in your own words and then explain why its wrong rather than just dropping a snarky line?

    Comment by Jeff G — September 25, 2013 @ 6:06 pm

  38. Jeff G,
    Snarky wasn’t my intent but by posing the comment that way it quickly points up what is wrong with Ardis’ comment. By juxtaposing in a jarring, an edgy way it causes people to think which far more important than than winning. I greatly respect a cogent argument in opposition.

    Comment by Howard — September 25, 2013 @ 6:16 pm

  39. See, I don’t think it does point out what’s wrong with it. His position can easily accommodate the priesthood ban on blacks and prophets being wrong. What makes you think that his position cannot accommodate such things?

    Comment by Jeff G — September 25, 2013 @ 6:25 pm

  40. How do you resolve 36?

    Comment by Howard — September 25, 2013 @ 6:55 pm

  41. That’s the point, I don’t see anything to resolve.

    Comment by Jeff G — September 25, 2013 @ 7:06 pm

  42. Lol!

    Comment by Howard — September 25, 2013 @ 10:18 pm

  43. Remember this guy Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf? That’s who you remind me of when you deny the obvious! Lol! He was sooo funny!

    Comment by Howard — September 26, 2013 @ 2:05 pm

  44. “I greatly respect a cogent argument in opposition.”

    I’m sure.

    Comment by Jeff G — September 26, 2013 @ 2:25 pm

  45. Speaking of edgy and jarring comments calculated to make people think, Howard, more often than not you’re a condescending, self-appointed douche.

    *Note: I used the afore mentioned feminine hygiene product label to leave room to take at least part of the observation as a compliment, just in case you’re as conceded as you come off.

    Comment by Riley — September 26, 2013 @ 9:41 pm

  46. Spoken like the saint you are Riley!

    Comment by Howard — September 27, 2013 @ 1:48 pm

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