“An Essay on the One True Morality and the Principle of Freedom”

 

Not the actual plates, really.

 

It’s Friday, and this week’s article in Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture is Alma Don Sorensen’s “An Essay on the One True Morality and the Principle of Freedom”:

 

http://www.mormoninterpreter.com/an-essay-on-the-one-true-morality-and-the-principle-of-freedom/

 

 

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  • Loran

    This is a wonderful, penetrating, and thoughtful piece of philosophical reflection on gospel verities. This is an essay on first principles, and is refreshing for precisely this reason (what a break from the reams of “problems of church history” writing that seems to be the central concern of Mormon studies).

    This is also exactly the kind of writing the Saints need more of, and apolgetics requires to keep its focus on the core ideas at the center of the restored gospel of which all other apologetic arguments and defenses are reflections, based as they are on an understanding of the body of doctrine and teaching flowing from these fundamental concepts. This is the mother of all un-brackted essays on things LDS.

    This gets both the left and right brain working – the critical mind and the imagination – in harmonious integration. I had never heard of Alma Sorenson until this post, but I’m sorry I’ve missed out over the years. I’d like to see more of this writing.

    • DanielPeterson

      If things go the way we expect, you will, indeed, see more of his writing.

      When we sent this article out for peer reviewing, one of the reviewers (a Ph.D. in political philosophy not based at BYU) wrote to me directly, which isn’t typical, expressing his excitement about the piece.

      Glad you liked it, too.

    • Anyotheruser

      I agree – one of my frustrations with much of what is written about the Book of Mormon (aside from the stuff that is really bad) is that, despite some good work, I don’t think there’s nearly enough attention on its ideas and what the Book of Mormon has to tell us. Though I hope and believe this will begin to change.

  • Loran

    The plan of salvation described as “the universal experiment of the heart.” Now that’s something I’m going to keep and return to again and again in the future and throughout my life (I think Elder Maxwell would have loved this turn of phrase). Good writing is nice, but real profundity is a rare jewel these days (and perhaps in any days).

  • Lucy Mcgee

    How could someone who believes in the evolution of humans from an ancestral population living on the African continent hundreds of thousands of years ago, ever accept pre-mortal existence? From a practical standpoint, if one holds evolution as the likely pathway of our modern existence, then what would that mean for the billions of humans living from the time of ancient hunter-gatherer tribes until the restored doctrines were offered by Joseph Smith? And how could one believe in the truth claims of doctrines which will never reach the vast majority of the population? There are literally billions living on earth who have zero understanding of what these doctrines are, or of who Joseph Smith was. What about that?

    Does the author assume there are a finite number of pre-mortal souls awaiting a chance at mortal existence? If this were the case, one would expect that “judgement day” would occur at the precise moment when the last pre-mortal soul was given mortality, or what?

    If the author believes there are an infinite number of pre-mortal souls, then couldn’t one assume that each soul need be given an opportunity at mortality, so that on judgement day, their human works could be judged and a determination made of which kingdom the post mortal soul would reside in for all eternity?

    What would it mean if judgement day came, and there were an infinite number of pre-mortal souls awaiting mortality? Would these pre-mortal souls get a pass since they had yet to become mortal? If that were the case, then why bother with a mortal experience?

    I have to admit, this essay was very difficult to read and quite strange to my irreligious mind. I think I’ll stick to reading Bertrand Russell.

    • Anyotheruser

      “And how could one believe in the truth claims of doctrines which will never reach the vast majority of the population? There are literally billions living on earth who have zero understanding of what these doctrines are, or of who Joseph Smith was. What about that?”

      Those questions have long-standing answers to them – the fact you don’t know them when salvation for the dead is one of Church’s core doctrines (and one which attracts public attention) suggests some of your information is a bit superficial.

      Some relevant LDS scriptures directly addressing those matters are here:
      https://www.lds.org/scriptures/dc-testament/dc/128?lang=eng
      https://www.lds.org/scriptures/dc-testament/dc/137?lang=eng
      https://www.lds.org/scriptures/dc-testament/dc/138?lang=eng

      • Lucy Mcgee

        As I understand, the Celestial Kingdom becomes available only to those most exalted, which would include those who understand and choose to live by the doctrines of the Restored Gospel. For the rest of humanity, past and present and future, who have never heard the gospel message, or will never hear it, another lower kingdom awaits, but only if the message is accepted. Else, souls will be cast into some outer darkness as will sons/daughters of perdition, apostates.

        And what about those pre-mortal souls? Are they infinite, finite or what? What say you to that question?

        For me, a much larger question is why it is believed that societies can’t be moral without the dogmas of religion, since it is clear that many humans have moral virtues in the total absence of religion and are flourishing today? And it seems very possible that if this is possible for millions, it is possible for everyone.

        I’d much rather abide by a construct where people decide the most important questions based on evidence, because in our world today, evidence is easily disseminated and shared. All we have to do is muster the intellectual integrity and honesty to examine its societal value. Do people’s actions hinder or advance the well being of our planet and the societies in which they exist? Education is key and critical here, and shouldn’t be slowed by dogmatic belief systems which keep our fellow travelers in a state of perpetual ignorance and dependent on dogmas.

        Last night, our family watched a Dateline program about Warren Jeffs and the FLDS. This society, influenced by religious dogma, is not a model for a thriving population, just as Islam practiced by the Taliban, does not offer the best teachings offered by humanity. To me, this shows that we humans, if conditioned from birth, can be made to believe anything. The evidence is overwhelming.

        • http://nathanrichardson.com/ Nathan

          Lucy said: As I understand, the Celestial Kingdom becomes available only to those most exalted, which would include those who understand and choose to live by the doctrines of the Restored Gospel. For the rest of humanity, past and present and future, who have never heard the gospel message, or will never hear it, another lower kingdom awaits.

          Lucy, I’ve never seen any authoritative quote that says people must accept the gospel in mortality in order to receive celestial glory. My understanding is that the celestial kingdom will include many who accept the gospel after death (in the spirit world).

          Lucy said: Does the author assume there are a finite number of pre-mortal souls awaiting a chance at mortal existence? If this were the case, one would expect that “judgement day” would occur at the precise moment when the last pre-mortal soul was given mortality, or what?

          Possibly. Of course, that would be during the Millennium, after the “eschaton,” when things work differently from our current mortal system.

          Lucy said: What would it mean if judgement day came, and there were an infinite number of pre-mortal souls awaiting mortality? Would these pre-mortal souls get a pass since they had yet to become mortal? If that were the case, then why bother with a mortal experience?

          Another possibility is that things are done in “batches.” A big group of premortal souls are sent to a world that eventually comes to an end. Then the Father prepares another world and sends the next big group of souls to that one. That way you have “batches” of Judgments, but a continual stream of souls each get their chance at mortality on some world somewhere. An endless cycle, or “one eternal round,” to use a scriptural phrase. Does that make sense?

          Lucy said: I have to admit, this essay was very difficult to read and quite strange to my irreligious mind.

          No problem. All your questions occur to everyone sooner or later, when they first start learning about the restored gospel. I’m sure I would have plenty of questions if I were learning about, say, Buddhists.

        • Anyotheruser

          “For the rest of humanity, past and present and future, who have never heard the gospel message, or will never hear it, another lower kingdom awaits, but only if the message is accepted.”

          Incorrect. Try reading the second link:

          “Thus came the voice of the Lord unto me, saying: All who have died without a knowledge of this gospel, who would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry, shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom of God; Also all that shall die henceforth without a knowledge of it, who would have received it with all their hearts, shall be heirs of that kingdom;” (D&C 137:7-8)

          “And what about those pre-mortal souls? Are they infinite, finite or what? What say you to that question?”

          Where this Earth is concerned, finite. But as we’re talking about an eternal deity here: “And the Lord God spake unto Moses, saying: The heavens, they are many, and they cannot be numbered unto man; but they are numbered unto me, for they are mine. And as one earth shall pass away, and the heavens thereof even so shall another come; and there is no end to my works, neither to my words.” (Moses 1:37-38)

          “For me, a much larger question is why it is believed that societies can’t be moral without the dogmas of religion, since it is clear that many humans have moral virtues in the total absence of religion and are flourishing today? And it seems very possible that if this is possible for millions, it is possible for everyone.”

          Larger question for whom? It’s really unrelated to the question of what Mormons believe about pre-existence or salvation of humanity (let alone the truth of those claims). But as to that question, it partly depends on what one defines as moral. Furthermore, the issue is not really ‘can atheists be moral’ – yes they can. The question is can the very concept of morality, good and evil, be logically defended on the premises of atheist materialism? If *nothing* ultimately matters, if everything is destined to end in the heat death of the universe, if every human life is ultimately without consequence – the logical end point of such a view is nihilism. Luckily human beings are not pure beings of logic.

          “I’d much rather abide by a construct where people decide the most important questions based on evidence, because in our world today, evidence is easily disseminated and shared. All we have to do is muster the intellectual integrity and honesty to examine its societal value.”

          Evidence is not that easily shared – I gave you a link that outright showed that the LDS perspective was different from what you thought, but (presumably because for lack of time or something you didn’t check it out) you continued to rely on what you “understood”.

          As for the idea that “all we have to do is muster the intellectual integrity and honesty”? That leads to some very unpleasant assumptions. Are we to assume when someone disagrees with us it’s because they’re either being dishonest, or are held captive by dogma? That all we need is for everyone to be honest, and all humans would miraculously agree?

          “To me, this shows that we humans, if conditioned from birth, can be made to believe anything.”

          Quite possibly, although clearly they can change their minds, or they’d be no atheists or no converts. However, that doesn’t then imply “therefore you must teach them what I believe”.

          • Lucy Mcgee

            Your first quote assumes that people “would have” received the Gospel message, which demands conversion in this life or the next. Given that humanity exists with amazing variation of cultural and religious practices, how could it ever be expected that such “souls” be open to a dogma never heard of or understood within their lifetimes? Imagine a tribe of hunter-gatherers living on the African savannah 60 thousand years ago. What would one expect of such “souls”?

            Assume they discard all they knew and accept the Restored Gospel and gained entrance into Celestial glory. If this can happen, then why bother with earthly religion at all? It seems counterproductive, since religious belonging is in large part a function of what society one is born into. How many Buddhist monks or Kalahari San would accept the Restored Gospel message? Yet if they did, they could circumvent all that is required within your religion and receive the same glory? And if they didn’t accept the Gospel, would they be cast into an eternal existence not worthy of their cultural or religious beliefs, even if they lived moral and just lives? Do you see a problem here?

            I noticed that the author relies primarily on BOM scripture in crafting his essay about a “one true morality”. Yet, there are countless other sources within world religions and philosophical thought which offer great wisdom about how to live a moral life. Again, this was a very difficult essay for me.

          • Anyotheruser

            “Do you see a problem here?

            The three passages I linked you to earlier answer most of those questions explicitly. Everyone has the opportunity to learn, if not here (as is true for most of humanity), then in the spirit world, where the dead are conscious, and where the Church is organised to teach people there too. It is God who determines the thoughts and intents of peoples hearts. No requirements are circumvented: one must learn and practice faith and repentance, and for those things that can’t be done there are done by proxy here: hence baptism for the dead (thus the need for some living people to be involved in the equation). And section 76 (here: http://www.lds.org/scriptures/dc-testament/dc/76?lang=eng ) clarifies full well the eternal destiny of, well, everyone. Hence why our eternal destinies are not just a dichotomy of heaven and hell.

            I appreciate some of this stuff is novel – I think members often underestimate how different some LDS concepts are from common Western or Christian ideas, and underestimate the implications of such ideas. But if one is seeking to question or critique a position, it’s imperative to try and understand that position accurately first. You appear to be rushing to critique the LDS position without actually knowing about basic aspects of it.

            “I noticed that the author relies primarily on BOM scripture in crafting his essay about a “one true morality”. Yet, there are countless other sources within world religions and philosophical thought which offer great wisdom about how to live a moral life. Again, this was a very difficult essay for me.”

            That’s because the basic question is about whether there is such a thing as absolute truths and morals. If there isn’t (the position of moral relativists), then one faces difficulties in preserving even the basic concepts of good and evil, and the 20th century should teach us full well that there are such things as evil. If however there is such a thing as absolute truth then one (by definition) cannot hope to find it simply by picking what is appealing – it might not be appealing, but it would not be true. If the Book of Mormon is genuinely the word of God (and it offers means to find that out), then as divine revelation it offers far greater access to absolute truth than random appealing stuff. Since the author obviously believes that to be the case it seems obvious why he seek to learn what it says. He is seeking to find a one true morality, not to build his own personal moral code.


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