Over at Wheat and Tares, Hawkgrrrl wrote an interesting post on the difference between obedience and self-sufficiency. She mentioned how pretty much everybody teaches both perspectives to their children, but if push came to shove and they could only teach one, religious people would teach obedience while secular families would choose self-sufficiency.
In the comments to that post I pretty much rehearsed the reasoning behind my post, “The False Prophets We Follow”, wherein I suggest that self-sufficiency in the sense of not following or obeying what anybody else teaches us is a myth which serves to reinforce secular values at the expense of religious values. Our thoughts and values have almost entirely been taught us by other people and/or spirits. Thus, the question is not whether we or our children will obey or be self-sufficient (this is not exactly the question that Hawkgrrl was asking); the question is whether we or our children will construe the choices we make in our lives in terms of obedience or self-sufficiency.
Unfortunately, while I do think that my perspective sets the problem up differently and in a certain sense more accurately, I don’t think it really does justice to that perspective which sees itself in terms of self-sufficiency. This perspective does not see itself as believing and valuing things totally independent of the people who teach or profit from them. I think a careful reading would not suggest that these “self-sufficient” people believe themselves capable of escaping or rising above the web of discipleship in which we inevitably swim during this life. Rather, they see themselves as not allowing any other person to evaluate these teachers and their teachings for them. They see themselves as being self-sufficient in their evaluation of all teachings and teachers, all prophecies and prophets. Obedience is not following the person who says something, but following something because of who says it.
This reframes things squarely in terms of the Euthyphro dilemma which I think is at the heart of the disagreement discussed in my last post: We all agree that personal revelation trumps both authority and human reason, but does priesthood authority trump human reason or the other way around? It is my contention that the gospel can be framed as follows:
Human reason ? Priesthood Authority ? Personal Revelation = Private
In one sense, this equation definitely puts a premium on obedience over self-sufficiency, but in another sense it does not. Yes, our obedience to priesthood leaders is trumped by our personal – and therefore self-sufficient – revelation. The problem is that this personal revelation is not at all a clear case of self-sufficiency in the relevant sense. When we pray about the Book of Mormon, the church or its priesthood leaders, we are thus allowing another person to evaluate these teachings and teachers, these prophecies and prophets for us. We are most definitely not given reasons or information about these things according to which we can then self-sufficiently decide for ourselves. In other words, our discipleship and testimonies are, at bottom, also a case of obedience winning out over self-sufficiency.
Even more importantly, I would argue that this obedience to authority generalizes down the chain of command. In the same way that we are typically not given reasons or information regarding the church and its leaders in order to self-sufficiently decide for ourselves what we should do with respect to them, we cannot assume that our priesthood authorities are given such reasons and information in their efforts to exercise righteous dominion. Furthermore, we should not expect our priesthood leaders to necessarily give us reasons and information on some topic after which we can then self-sufficiently make our own decisions. It is for this very reason that the Lord has given a measured amount of the exact same authority that He has – including the authority to evaluate teachings and teachers for those within their stewardship.
In conclusion, there is no self-sufficiency in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Not only do we inevitably follow some person or another in essentially all of our beliefs and values, but the gospel actively encourages us to trust the evaluation of these teachings and teachers to those in authority. Personal revelation is the most basic case in which we trust and obey somebody else’s evaluation of various teachings and teachers. Priesthood authority is an extension of this same expectation that we trust and obey somebody else’s evaluation of various teachings and teachers. In neither case are we expected to allow our self-sufficient evaluations of various teachers and teachings to trump our faith, trust and obedience to these authorities.