Category Archives: Free Will

Create!

When work gets slow, I get anxious.  While ebbs and flows are natural in my line of work and overall I’m a net asset to the company, I can’t help feeling guilty when not actively engaged in meaningful work.  I suppose it’s natural.  But for me the guilt often morphs into self-pity, boredom, and an unhealthy dose of wanderlust.  And it’s been a slow couple of weeks.  This time I resolved not to give in.  I made a choice.

To help snap out of the funk I went through a personal mini ritual.  Clear the desk of all clutter, pull out a pen and an empty piece of paper, then try to make my mind match the paper.  After several minutes entertain a single thought, the first thing that comes to mind.  On this occasion it was a question:  What’s missing?

When you start with a blank piece of paper the answer is everything, but this is only a trigger.  There are days when work is invigorating; what’s missing today?  When you think about a great day at work, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?  I could effortlessly imagine a half-dozen examples.

For a recent project I sat down in front of a blank computer screen and hammered out an elegant algorithm (in R) that cranked through a mountain of data and spit out meaningful information complete with fancy graphs.  What was it about this particular project that made it exhilarating?  It was an act of creation, bringing something into existence that did not exist before, something useful even.

Learning new things is great.  Supporting the business is fine, but acts of creation lead to incomparable satisfaction.  It is why I envy artists, musicians, directors, writers, even mediocre ones.  They create!

I then wrote two more questions on the sheet of paper:  1) What can I create today? and 2) What can I create to improve other people’s lives?  The questions more than the answers have already improved my days.

While the statistician in me understands that most days are average, there’s nothing written in the universe that says the average can’t rise.  If I go to bed tonight having brought something useful or beautiful into the world that didn’t exist when I woke up, then today really was better than average.

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Filed under Free Will, Random Thoughts, Various and Sundry

Predestination

Mormons tend to shy away from the charged word “predestination” primarily because we’re uncomfortable with its deterministic connotation.  We favor the word “foreordination” which feels more friendly to the possibility of rejecting the call or election.  While foreordination is doctrinally accurate (Alma 13, Jeremiah 1:4-5) predestination is the actual biblical word (Romans 8:29-30, Ephesians 1:5,11.)  But predestination properly understood does not negate Free Will at all.

To have a destination predetermined does not guarantee arrival.  If I plan a vacation to Baja but stop and visit friends on the way and waste all my vacation days, it doesn’t mean the destination wasn’t available.  My hotel and dining reservations would likely be filled with travelers who may have made a last-minute decision to head south of the border from some delectable oceanic cuisine.  They have every right to enjoy the fish tacos I forfeited.

This is in large part what Christ taught in the parable of the marriage feast:

The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which amade a bmarriage for his son, And sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and athey would not come. Again, he sent forth other servants, saying, Tell them which are bidden, Behold, I have prepared my dinner: my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready: come unto the marriage. But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise:  And the remnant took his servants, and entreated them spitefully, and slew them. But when the king heard thereof, he was wroth: and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. Then saith he to his servants, The wedding is ready, but they which were bidden were not worthy. Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage. So those servants went out into the highways, and agathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests. And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding agarment: And he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless. Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into aouter darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are acalled, but few are chosen.b

Mathew 2:2-14, KJV

The Feast was prepared for the predestined, and rejected.

Unlike vaycay in Baja, Salvation is not a zero sum affair.  The mansions prepared in The Father’s House are open to all who embrace the Christ.

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Filed under Book of Mormon, Free Will, New Testament

Persuasion

Know this, that ev’ry soul is free
To choose his life and what he’ll be;
For this eternal truth is giv’n:
That God will force no man to heav’n

He’ll call, persuade, direct aright,
And bless with wisdom, love, and light,
In endless ways be good and kind,
But never force the human mind.

Freedom and reason make us men;
take that away what are we then?
Mere animals, and just as well
The beasts may think of heav’n or hell.

May we no more our pow’rs abuse,
But ways of truth and goodness choose;
Our God is pleased when we improve
His grace and seek his perfect love.

Anonymous, ca. 1805, Boston. Included in the first LDS hymnbook

No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by longsuffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile– reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou has reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy; that he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death.

-D&C 121:41-44

Nothing is so much calculated to lead people to forsake sin as to take them by the hand, and watch over them with tenderness. When persons manifest the least kindness and love to me, O what power it has over my mind, while the opposite course has a tendency to harrow up all the harsh feelings and depress the human mind.

-Joseph Smith

Calling for civility in politics is wishful thinking.  Godly persuasion is unnatural.  “But what is government itself,” said James Madison, “but the greatest of all reflections on human nature?”

Those striving to live as saints should not participate nor condone lashing out in vitriolic envy towards others.  It is not a noble demonstration of patriotism. Rather it leads to despotism.

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Filed under Doctrine and Covenants, Free Will, Politics

Free Will: Part II

Samuel Johnson wrote that  “all theory is against the freedom of the will; all experience for it.”  I tend to agree but believe that he overstates the strength of the theory.  Nowadays determinists drape themselves in controlled experiments and neuroscience and make conclusions based on weak but statistically significant results and claim to have proven determinism.  Can you say, “naked emperor?”

These neurological studies draw conclusions that cannot be determined from the study itself.  They measure the effect of thought on the organism not the origination of thought (and by extension choice.)  Look at this picture.  Respond to this question.  We’ll scan your brain and determine that these stimuli triggered activity in this part of the brain which guides moral judgment.  Therefore moral judgement is determined by external stimuli only.

A recent article over at Reason.com discusses several presentations from the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies on moral judgement, free will, and sacred values.  A fair portion of the article discusses the ideas of William Casebeer,  that “holding agents responsible depends on the notion of being in or out of control. Being in control depends on what he calls the functional architecture of a well-ordered psyche.”  The obvious question is ordered by what or whom?  It’s the conundrum of Plato’s Cave: who frees the philosopher?  If the goal of shaping society is a question of developing a citizenry with well-ordered psyche’s, how do the shapers know what it means to be well-ordered?

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Filed under Free Will, Philosophy, Science

Bastiat was Wrong…

…but not for the reason you’re probably hoping.  Personally, I feel Frederic Bastiat was erudite in explaining the virtues of liberty and laws that maximize human dignity.  But he is wrong, or at least incomplete in his reasons for such strong opposition to it.  He wrote in The Law:

[W]hat is the political struggle that we witness? It is the instinctive struggle of all people toward liberty…. It must be admitted that the tendency of the human race toward liberty is largely thwarted, especially in France. This is greatly due to a fatal desire — learned from the teachings of antiquity — that our writers on public affairs have in common: They desire to set themselves above mankind in order to arrange, organize, and regulate it according to their fancy.

Bastiat is only half right.  He is correct in assessing mankind’s lust for power and desire to rule but is overly optimistic about the universality of the desire to be free.  He ignores the complicity of the citizenry in the establishment of authoritarian forms of government.  Didn’t ancient Israel cry unto the Lord for the establishment of a king despite the litany of warnings from the prophet Samuel?  And why did they do it?  To be like other nations and for someone else (other than the Lord) to fight their battles.  They were willing to pay the heavy price for that privilege.

Philanthropic Tyranny, meet your willing citizens.

There is a more striking example that is uniquely Mormon, as far as I know.  We believe in a pre-earth life as spirit children of God.  Prior to the creation of the world, Heavenly Father presented a plan for us to progress, to be tested and according to our diligence and faith exalted.  Lucifer proposed a counter offer whereby none would be lost, all for the low low price of forgoing Free Will.  A full third of the hosts of Heaven followed Lucifer and were cast out.

So even in the presence of God there is something within each of us that is tempted to sell our liberty for a mess of pottage.  No wonder this is the great political struggle.

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Filed under Free Will, Politics, Various and Sundry

All Roads Lead Where?

Can it be true that many paths lead to Exaltation?  If it were, then all paths would be equal and equally true.  This can’t be because many belief systems are contradictory; resurrection and reincarnation are fundamental yet mutually exclusive doctrines.  But what if all belief systems have some truth?  I know this to be true because I felt it deeply as an eager teenager devouring the Qur’an, the Bhagavad Gita, the Torah, and other exquisite, primary sources.

All religions contain doctrines and principles that are true and can lead from enlightenment to enlightenment.  Mormons are perhaps more sympathetic to such a notion because we believe in the idea of revelation upon revelation, receiving line upon line, and as I’ve discussed earlier, we believe in an open canon.

We also believe that God has spoken to all nations at various times.  Sometimes undefiled records were kept and hid up to come forth as a voice from the dust as happened with the Book of Mormon.  But even without such a tangible first-hand account much truth, while corrupted by false traditions, endures among all peoples.

We also believe that the Holy Ghost will manifest the truth of all things to those who honestly seek it, and that this is not an exclusive right limited to Latter-day Saints.  We will not receive a complete knowledge of all things all at once, but we can come to know truth when we hear it.

Organizations as well as individuals grow line by line.  The Lord did not reveal to Joseph Smith a perfect, complete organization, nor did He reveal such to Moses or Peter.  In fact, the Lord commanded Peter to preach the Gospel to all the earth.  To Peter that apparently meant all the Jews in all the earth.  It wasn’t until some time after the Ascension that Peter required and received a poignant revelation about preaching to the Gentiles (Acts 11).  Then even later, confusion arose about whether or not non-Jewish converts to Christianity ought to obey the parts of the Mosaic tradition still in force.  The Twelve met in council and received another revelation about which parts of the law were applicable to gentile converts (Acts 15).

Receiving enlightenment line upon line is a feature, not a flaw of how the Lord deals with His children and builds His kingdom.  So we should not be surprised when things change; we should expect it!  There are, of course, unalterable truths.  But there is nothing to indicate that institutions, organizations, or cultures are immutable.  Covenants are eternal, but the method of administration might change with no loss of generality.

Just because things change, however, doesn’t mean that many roads lead to a fulness of Salvation.  It means there are authorized servants of the Master who can navigate us through new terrain or provide a more perfect set of guidelines that suit current needs.

The challenge, then is to discover how to recognize truth and recognize who is authorized to make such alterations to the true path.  That will be left for another post.

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Filed under Free Will, God and Man, Philosophy