Obedience or Natural Law?

Ecumenigalaccountability, obedience 19 Comments

There is an interesting character on Youtube who calls herself “The Non-Muslim Hijabi”. She wears a head scarf even though she’s not Muslim.  I felt a kinship with her, since I’m a Non-Mormon Word of Wisdom follower, and generally live all the other commandments.  (The lifestyle teachings, not the ordinances.)

In one of her videos, the Non-Muslim Hijabi said something like, ‘Don’t just do something because the Koran says so. Find out the reasons for yourself and do it because you feel the benefits.’  One Muslim woman responded, ‘What is wrong with doing it only to show your obedience to God?’

I thought that was a good point, and it was a clarifying moment for me. If I believed I had a reliable source of God’s Word, I’d be all over it, and I would do my best to be obedient to it, trusting that His understanding was greater than mine. I don’t happen to believe that we have a very reliable, literal, Word of God, so I rely on “living a commandment in order to gain a testimony of it.”  I find that all of the Mormon lifestyle teachings have really good, practical reasons behind them. While some people criticize the church as trying to “control” its members with all these rules, I experience the church as trying to protect its members from suffering by giving good counsel on Natural Law.   I appreciate the Mormon sentiment I’ve heard that those of other religions who live the same lifestyle teachings will progress in their spiritual lives because of it.

The Mormon lifestyle teachings seem to be really definitive of Mormonism in a lot of people’s minds. Many non-Mormons know Mormons as “those guys that don’t drink or smoke or even drink coffee”.  People so often assume that those who leave do so because of their relationship with the commandments, rather than their relationship with the theology. This would make sense if you thought the commandments were the hallmark of Mormonism, or at least the hardest part. I do know some people who lost their testimony and then immediately tried all the vices, since there was no longer a reason not to.  So, it does seem like the commandments are the main focus and deciding factor for a lot of people.

I confused people by being an “active” non-member.  One person said to me, “If you attend services and follow the commandments, what else is there? My eyes popped out of my head. But I guess that question makes sense if you assume that following the commandments is a demonstration of faith in the Prophets and the Book of Mormon.  (Which is the “what else”.)

My questions for the reader are:

Do you follow the commandments out of faith and obedience, or because of a personal conviction that they are important to your spiritual growth?  Do you think one reason has greater merit than the other and why?

Are the commandments central to your faith as a Mormon? Are they outdated relics? Control tactics? Unnecessarily rigid guidelines? Or essential tools for your spiritual progress and transformation?


Comments 19

  1. I follow them out of faith and obedience as I think many of them are NOT essential or eternal. A simple example because it’s clear-cut. Is alcoholism bad? Obviously. Is having a glass of red wine with dinner bad? No, and in fact it is probably healthy for you. Is it an eternal principle? Obviously not, as Christ, Joseph Smith and others drank wine, and should I make it to the Celestial kingdom, I would expect to see them there. But do I follow it because it is a part of the current interpretation of the Word of Wisdom? Yes. Therefore, the only reason is faith and obedience.

    My fundamental goal is integrity. If I am going to attend the LDS Church and raise my kids in an LDS lifestyte, I should follow the LDS rules. Similarly, I don’t really care what religion anyone else is, as there is good in all of them, and there is a lot of good in people who don’t belong to any particular religion. However, if someone professes to be of a particular faith, I would expect them to make a good effort to follow what that faith teaches.

    Interestingly, your post touches upon a core of Buddhist teachings. Buddha taught that we shouldn’t believe anything just because he taught it, because it was in a book of scripture, because a wise man taught it, etc. We should test his words and judge them merely by their fruits. If they bring good, we should then commit to follow them.

  2. I think my obedience does bring me spiritual development. I learn the understand the ways of the Lord better, when I express my willingness to follow him.

    As Mike above says, we should “prove the Lord” by obeying his commandments, so we can learn to distinguish; furthermore, if we obey for the right reason (faith, willingness to obey God rather than selfish — like paying a tithe to get ever more money).

    Furthermore, the Lord has always expected sacrifice. All the religions always have taught sacrifice. Even Buddhism exhorts denying selfish need, although it’s not a “sacrifice” to God.

    As far as committing to follow something if it brings good fruits: What if there is a real sacrifice that we need to make? What if Jesus had decided that it just makes no sense that there’s this ridiculous sacrifice. What if Paul had recanted, to save himself from the executioner?

    I realize that this is also a dangerous facet in religious affiliation, as many stories vividly illustrate, but we should continue doing the things we believe right even if it seems very difficult.

  3. Do you follow the commandments out of faith and obedience, or because of a personal conviction that they are important to your spiritual growth?

    Do you think one reason has greater merit than the other and why?
    No. Faith is (at least in part) the conviction that they are important to spiritual growth. Obedience is obvious.

    Are the commandments central to your faith as a Mormon?
    The will of God is central to my Faith. The commandments may change according to the will of God, but His will is constant.

  4. Ecumenigal – this would have been an interesting poll. Many will poll, but few will comment.

    “Do you follow the commandments out of faith and obedience, or because of a personal conviction that they are important to your spiritual growth?” Depends on the commandment. Some are important to spiritual growth, although mostly not at face value and some have very multi-faceted benefits. “Do you think one reason has greater merit than the other and why?” I think blind obedience has a shelf life. You can do that when you are still young and foolish, or don’t have enough life experience to make great decisions for yourself. But eventually, you have to come up with better reasons. In general, commandments are self-reinforcing (meaning you find meaning and benefit in following them that reinforces your commitment to do so), but there are of course some commandments that are more arbitrary and bizarre that create cultural isolationism. That cultural isolationism raises the price of leaving. It serves a sociological purpose, but not a spiritual one.

    “Are the commandments central to your faith as a Mormon? Are they outdated relics? Control tactics? Unnecessarily rigid guidelines? Or essential tools for your spiritual progress and transformation?” Personally, I think that without commandments / behavioral practices Mormonism would lose its value in people’s lives. Some are outdated relics (and carry the downside of being unjustifiable or sounding weak when explained; this can be a missionary problem or can cause a retention problem). Some are control tactics (and carry the downside of discouraging spiritual growth and accountability). Some are unnecessarily rigid (and carry the downside of creating pride in the uber-orthodox). Some are essential tools for spiritual progress and transformation. The key is to figure out which is which, and to take them as they are. You can choose to comply with anything (or choose not to), but if you throw out the baby with the bathwater, you don’t get spiritual growth either.

  5. I have always believed that behaviors have natural rewards and/or consequences. The value of religion in general is that they help people set values and stick to them. A community of believers provides strength in numbers and a method of checking oneself against the group. You can’t throw stones at the benefits of many organized religions for this reason.

    Here’s the problem I see with Mormonism in general as it relates to many of the mainline Christian groups. In the church, we have MANY do’s and don’ts that you would be hard pressed to show the good provided by obedience is not outweighed by the bad it also produces. Simple things like loving your neighbor and doing good to them that despitefully use you are lost in the sea of WoW compliance, tithing, home-teaching, temple attendance, gluttony of meetings, and other gospel hobby horses members like to ride. I believe history has repeated itself, as were the Jews caught-up in all the “do’s” and “don’ts” of the Mosaic law, so are we caught-up in the fanaticism of many of these. We think that strict obedience to these principles is going to ensure our exaltation while we sit in judgment of those that aren’t strictly obedient or all believing.

    If Christ returned and had the same distain for the General Authorities of today as He had for the leaders of the Jews 2000 years ago, I wonder how many members would reject Him and stick with the prophet? If history is any teacher or predictor of the future, the answer is most!

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  7. #6: Regarding your final paragraph:

    I would leave in an instant. I agree completely about the main problem with Mormonism. I stay because of the essence of the gospel – love your neighbor, families, etc. I am driven crazy by all the things that have risen around the core of the gospel that you mention. It does seem much like old times ( …the Pharisees continued a form of Judaism that extended beyond the Temple, applying Jewish law to mundane activities in order to sanctify the every-day world…) when people seriously define your relationship with Mormonism by things as mundane as whether you wear a white shirt for your Church calling, how many earrings you have, whether you have a tattoo, whether you checked the box for Home Teaching last month, etc.

    Just as an example of the focus, I have always known all of my home teaching families very well for years. I have worked with them on many levels. I know a lot about their families, and would call them or they would call me for anything at anytime. When I see them 2-4 times per week and do so much with them, every “formal” HT visit I have done has seemed “forced”. They realize it’s just for a number. So, for years, I turn in “NO” when asked if I home taught each month, as our stake president only wants it to count if it is a “formal” visit. When I was in a PEC meeting where a member of the bishopric was talking about home teaching and “meeting our goals”, he talked about an idea where the bishopric would call each companionship and “offer” to do home teaching at the end of the month for those who weren’t doing it. He said that even if it shamed them into doing it, at least it was getting done.

    So, maybe I’m wrong. I could care less about numbers. I would argue that I was a good “home teacher” knowing more about my families than most anyone else. I followed the spirit of the law. But I was a bad “home teacher”. But I don’t care. I just turn in “no” now anyway, regardless of if I visit them or not.

    I would love to see the “crust” around Mormonism shed. I would love to see us jettison 90% of the programs and rules that have crept in over the years. I would love to see a focus on the core of the gospel – not just in a conference talk about how we should focus on that – but in a day-to-day, practical basis. I think I will be dead before that happens, however, unless the Savior does come and does that…

  8. Ecumenigal, I decided to add a poll to your post–I hope you don’t mind. I actually tried adding 2, but I couldn’t figure out how to make it work, so you only get one, unless someone more technical can figure out what I did wrong…..

  9. I’m afraid my reasons for keeping the commandments aren’t a perfect fit for either question. That’s not unusual — I usually can’t find the right answers in most surveys.

    1. I don’t keep the commandments well enough to suit me, so I have a hard time just stating the reason why I do something I don’t really think I do.

    2. Some of the commandments and rules I obey are because they are rules and I accept the validity of the rules even though I don’t think they’re necessarily universally valid, like Mike spoke of in comment 1. Not drinking, smoking or taking recreational drugs is easy for me, because I just never have found them appealing (minor experimenting as a youth didn’t make them appealing).

    3. Others I see as definitely eternal and important, sometimes because I’ve broken them and seen the consequences. I think this might be where the natural consequences part plays in.

    4. I’m not in the Church because I find the lifestyle appealing. If all there was to the Church was the Word of Wisdom and green Jell-o, I’d be gone like yesterday. I’m also not here because I find the theology appealing. I’m here because of my annoying and perplexing testimony. Period. I have friends at Church that I enjoy and care about, and I might come occasionally to see them, but if I didn’t know in my heart that this was the place to be, my basic laziness would lead to my drifting away in a short period of time.

  10. I voted personal conviction. In fact, sometimes personal conviction has led me to take actions that the leadership of my church opposed.

    I long ago decided I’d rather have to explain to God why I did something I believed to be right that turned out to be wrong, than to have to explain to Him why I’d done something that turned out to be right if I’d honestly felt it to be wrong.

    If I’m wrong about THAT, well refer to the previous paragraph again. 😀

  11. Post

    Thanks ya’ll for the great comments! Thanks Hawk for suggesting a poll, and MH for adding one. I had to go out of town yesterday, so I’m slow.

    Very interesting and satisfying discussion. Thanks again!

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  13. Hmmm, for me it has probably always been first, out of trust and obedience, but as I’ve progressed through life, I’ve been able to see the benefits of having done so, which tends to reinforce my desire to follow them even when I don’t understand one, because I’ve seen the benefits of doing that with others. (sorry, kind of repetitive.)

    For me, the commandments have been, as you mentioned, the idea of trusting that His wisdom is greater than mine.

    Doug G. I kind of disagree about the word of wisdom one. I grew up in an extended family with people who became slaves of addictions. I’m SO thankful that I never took the first drink, smoked the first cigarette etc. I’ve seen the sorrow and pain that comes to a person and those around them due to those things. I think it’s a wonderful commandment from a loving Father. Just as I would tell my children not to touch a hot stove so that they wouldn’t get hurt.

    Mike S. I’m sorry your SP doesn’t count the other as home teaching. To me, that’s what it’s all about. The best home teachers I ever had were the ones who were checking on me every week to make sure I was doing all right. They still tried to come and do “official” visits, but I told them that any of the visits counted in “my” book. 🙂

  14. We reverence God because God is good. We ought (the very word “ought” connotes a moral imperative) to love good rather than evil, or even the morally neutral). So it follows that the whole reason we are willing to follow God’s commandments, is that we are inwardly convinced that those commandments are congruent with natural moral law.

    Where things get sticky, is when we recognize that not everything that comes out of the mouth of a person claiming to be revealing God’s commandments or God’s will, is actually doing so. By committing ourselves to “obedience,” regardless of whether a purported commandment is actually divine (and therefore morally good), we are declaring ourselves indifferent to the imperative to choose good over non-good. “We ought to obey God rather than men.”

  15. Teresa,

    I certainly respect your right to disagree with me. Even if it is just kind of. 🙂

    I think you may have missed my point. I’m not debating the merits of living without alcohol and tobacco. (Although I think you would be hard pressed to show that wine and/or beer in moderation isn’t a much healthier drink than say coke.) Putting that aside though, do you really think God will judge someone as being good or evil based on strict obedience to the WoW? You see that’s the point I’m trying to drive home here. Just because you feel that obedience to this particular section of the D&C is good for your health doesn’t have anything to do with how God will judge those who don’t. The vegetarians would say that not eating meat is much healthier for you and therefore should be strictly avoided. The WoW would seem to back that up and yet I don’t know of anyone deprived of a temple recommend for having meat two times a day.

    Christ probably said it best when he told the Jews that it wasn’t what went into the mouth that defiled the man, but what came out. Given that He seemed to like wine and understanding that even though Joseph Smith gave the WoW, he also consumed wine and beer his whole adult life, I find it very hard to believe that not partaking of these substances makes one anymore worthy to enter into heaven. However, judging and esteeming those around us as “less than” for not obeying that “principle” may very well offend God.

    One last point- “I’ve seen the sorrow and pain that comes to a person and those around them due to those things.” I’m not sure what you’re implying by this statement. Can people become addicted to alcohol? Of course they can, but by far the fast majority of people can and do drink responsibly without ever having it rule their lives or becoming “addicted”. I guess it’s kind of like guns, for every one person that uses a gun illegally there’s hundreds that use them responsibly. Should everyone strictly avoid having a gun around for fear they might be tempted to use it foolishly? Again, fanatical observance of a health code is fine for the sake of the health code, but I would never assume that my obsession with it would make me more righteous than my neighbor who likes a little red wine to go with his medium rare steak.

  16. Doug G,

    I see where you’re coming from now, thanks. 🙂

    Actually learned a lot while my son was in inpatient therapy (although this is totally off the original topic) and it has been found through studies trying to create alcoholics that you can’t just make someone into an alcoholic. (Problem drinkers are a separate breed.) There are actual physical, genetic factors that go into alcoholism. Unfortunately, it also runs in families do to the genetic components (multiple, not just one gene) hence I am thankful for never having taken that first drink. Hence, I don’t equate addiction with gun control.

    As far as cigarrettes go, I watched my dad try for the second half of his life (that’s the only part I was around for) try to quit the darn things, and was never able to, instead, they helped kill him. Once again, I’m thankful I never started. Sitting there in his hospital room while he died isn’t the kind of thing I’d wish for my kids to have to do with me.

    My point was that the Lord sometimes gives commandments that are for “our own good” not becuase something is more righteous than another thing. I.e. there is often wisdom in what he commands, even if it isn’t a worthiness thing.

    Teresa Marie

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