A few days ago, after I had posted an item about plans to build a new high-rise office building in Salt Lake City, one disaffected former Latter-day Saint managed to turn the discussion—as almost always happens in such cases—to the damnably wicked biblical expectation and practice of tithing, reaffirmed in latter-day revelation.
Latter-day Saints, he argued, aren’t really free to choose to tithe or not to tithe, because, without being full tithe-payers, they won’t be counted as members in good standing of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Which means that they won’t be able to enter the temple, be ordained apostles, and such like.
And, of course, it’s true: Not a full tithe-payer? No apostleship for you. No temple wedding. No luxurious three-year vacation as a mission president in Mongolia.
(It should not be forgotten, however, that one can be a full tithe-payer while literally paying nothing. If you have no income, your full tithe is zero; as bishop of a relatively impoverished singles ward some years ago, I admitted several young people to the temple who were, at the time, paying no tithing.)
Unwilling to tithe your income or, absent income, to profess yourself a full tithe-payer? Then you won’t be rewarded with appointment as a bishop and will be denied the enhanced leisure, the vast recreational opportunities, the eminent social status, and the lucrative financial benefits that accompany that sinecure.
However, it seemed to me that the complainant was misusing the concept of freedom to suggest that we aren’t free to choose not to tithe because, to be more precise, we’re not free (if we have income) to choose to withhold tithing without that choice entailing consequences. But those are quite distinct things.
It’s true that, if I don’t buy movie tickets, I won’t be able to take a seat in the theater to watch Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible XXXV: Adventures with Dentures. But I’m still totally free to make that decision. If I don’t practice the violin for hours every day, I won’t ever perform onstage at Carnegie Hall. But I’m entirely free to practice or not to practice. If I don’t pay for a subscription to Cigar Aficionado, I won’t receive that magazine in the mail. If I don’t renew my gym membership, I won’t be permitted to work out on their equipment and, as a result, my legendarily buff appearance will be endangered. If I refuse to look through the telescope, I won’t see the rings of Saturn. If I don’t study hard, I won’t go to an elite law school. All such decisions are free. That they entail certain consequences makes them no less free.
In order to make my point absolutely clear, I made a choice when I got into my rental car in Cairns for the drive up to Port Douglas: Rebelling against the irrational Australian demand that I drive on the left hand side of the road, I insisted on exercising my right of free choice and drove on the right. Shortly out of the rental parking lot, accordingly, I ran head on into a large truck that was fully loaded with sugar cane. That’s why this post comes to you from an as-yet unspecified location in the spirit world.
But I trust that I’ve made my point: Such decisions are entirely free. Unfortunately, though, the Latter-day Saints aren’t the only people who will occasionally point out that they entail (sometimes grave) consequences.
(Heh heh. I had you going there for just a moment, didn’t I? Actually, I’m not [yet] dead, but am, to the contrary, writing this blog entry from a pleasant location right here on Earth. Too bad for my extremist critics, who were probably gearing up to celebrate the end of what they pretend to regard as a life of unashamed avarice, cruelty, mendacity, and crime.)
Posted from Port Douglas, Queensland, Australia