One of my fencing coaches often relates a story about how she despises the parents of little fencing kids. And this is not isolated. Soccer moms, fencing moms, Girl Scout moms, etc., etc., are all insane.
As my coach relates this story, she points out the reasoning of fencing moms: if their kid is doing well, it’s because their kid is the greatest thing ever in the world and will become an Olympic fencer. If their kid isn’t doing well, it’s because the coach is terrible and the kid needs to go to a better club. It couldn’t be the case that the fencer is doing poorly because he won’t follow instructions, practice often, keep his arm up, extend first, etc., Nope, it must be the coach.
This is just a specific case of a phenomenon where people take ownership of things that are good and abdicate things that are bad. It is the basis of the self-serving bias.
In the church, things can get a little bit different…sometimes, both good things and bad things are abdicated — after all, it was a “blessing of the Lord,” or it might have just been a “trial.”
But we also learn about our role in the process, especially with agency and free will. So, we point out that faith without works is dead…Some like to say we are saved ‘after all we can do’ (but, what we can do is not that much, since we are rather imperfect). We point out that those who are unrighteous (as an exercise of will) face negative consequences.
I’ve never liked this dichotomy. What is the bottom line? Are we free or are we buffeted by outside forces? How are we supposed to live under two conflicting ideals? A poem by Maya Angelou highlighting grace above action (and in a way giving some sense of disdain, I think, to action) annoyed me and I wrote about it on my blog a while back.
I don’t necessarily think that people are responsible for everything that comes their way. But I don’t think that in the vast majority of cases, we can just attribute things to the mysteries of the spirit or of the adversary. We can admit that we don’t know and what we think, but it seems to easy to fall into a trap of surety about things. It seems too much of a cop-out to say, “Well, I’m not perfect, but I have faith, so everything will be well” which is the vibe I get from the Angelou poem (even though I know that’s misrepresenting what Ms. Angelou was going for.)
…but how does that relate to the church? After all, that generally is a position not taken by LDS people, who recognize accountability and works in the interplay of faith.
Well, there are still some areas where members of the church will push off responsibility, so to speak. In the depression topic earlier here at MM, people were discussing what might be at play. And one comment by Jen set off my dark-side-of-the-moon alarm.
What about LDS people being targeted in a more “front line” approach by the adversary and his followers? Could this be a possibility? Is it possible that those who are striving to live in a “righteous” manner are also targeted more because of the light and knowledge they have?
This kind of thought rubs me the wrong way because it shifts everything away from things we might possibly work at fixing to something that is uncontrolled and uncontrollable. For example, Jen’s original comment might be applied to depression rates in Utah or porn consumption in Utah (both ideas were flying around)…so with both of these issues, it’s easy to think of *material, physical* variables that could be tested. It might not be the case, but we could test for stressful lifestyles…we could test for availability of “social medication” or of whatever factors. We might be way off in our hypothesizing, but at least with tangible variables, we can test things. Even if it’s genetic (something that appears to be something we can’t change), we can still *see* genes and theoretically come to a point where we can change those.
But with the adversary and his temptation, it’s like we give up. If we accept a real adversary that tempts people, then this is a constant of the universe. It’s not something we can work at eliminating (like we could for other factors). It’s not something we can work on improving on, because by default, as we get more “righteous,” the belief is that he works harder to stop us. So what can we do? Apparently, nothing that will be effective.
So, regardless of whether or not the adversary is out to get to us, it seems to me that this is not the place we should be going to for blame. It certainly could be that that little kid has an incapable coach and he needs to go to a different club, but he (and his satellite fencing mom) should look at his own practice and dedication first. He should look at tangible factors around him before attributing to the uncontrolled and uncontrollable.
…But then again, the opposite end (of attributing everything to our actions) gets kinda depressing too. (Your depression is your unrighteousness.)