Does Mormonism Allow for Free Agency?

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EuSouScott
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Does Mormonism Allow for Free Agency?

Post by EuSouScott » 09 Jul 2014, 14:42

I've been thinking about this all day while listening to the most recent MS podcast with Christine Jeppsen Clark.

Do I really have my agency?

Towards the end of the interview, Christine compares a member's traditional mormon upbringing to the Disney movie 'Tangled' where Rapunzel is stuck in her tower and her mother continually reminds her that she is safe and protected in the tower. There are people out there who are evil and would take advantage of her gifts and talents were she to ever leave her sanctuary.

I think the analogy is fitting. Of course I have the ability to make my own choices. I have been free to leave 'the tower' and explore the world my entire life. I have always had the ability to disregard the brethren (Rapunzel's mother). But as with any decision, there are consequences to those decisions. I am free to leave the tower and explore the world, but there are very real and serious social and emotional consequences that I have to deal with and they are consequences that wouldn't exist had I never been associated with the church in the first place.

I understand that the consequence of stealing a car is enforced by the government and will result in prison time and/or court fines (Im not a lawyer so please correct my where I am wrong). That is fair to me. It seems consistent with the laws of nature and our society has decided that consequence is fair. If it wasn't, we change it via democracy (not an invitation to begin a political argument ;) ).

I wonder if the consequences of kicking against the brethren (social ostracization, excommunication, divorce, social judgments) are fair in the same sense that incarceration is fair in cases of theft. I don't think they are, and thus I am compelled (forced) to stay in the tower. In so many ways, I feel trapped and forced to continue to tout the party line. I feel like my free agency is taken from me by my association with a church whose teachings I no longer believe or support.

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Re: Does Mormonism Allow for Free Agency?

Post by Old-Timer » 09 Jul 2014, 16:07

Yes - absolutely.

Frankly, I think it actually allows for a deeper exercise of agency than many other denominations, simply because there is so little that is unambiguously "creedal" in nature. Not everyone will see that, and there are plenty of people who live as if they have given up their agency, but that doesn't change, for me, the fact that agency is taught so explicitly and that, ironically, as someone with heterodox views, I have abundant opportunities to exercise my agency - not only in what I believe but also in how I act as a result.
I see through my glass, darkly - as I play my saxophone in harmony with the other instruments in God's orchestra. (h/t Elder Joseph Wirthlin)

Even if people view many things differently, the core Gospel principles (LOVE; belief in the unseen but hoped; self-reflective change; symbolic cleansing; striving to recognize the will of the divine; never giving up) are universal.

"For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong." H. L. Mencken

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SilentDawning
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Re: Does Mormonism Allow for Free Agency?

Post by SilentDawning » 09 Jul 2014, 19:34

I do think that we have our agency in all situations --- no matter how dire. However, the greater the IMMEDIATE consequences for exercising that agency freely, the more diluted that free agency becomes.

In our church, we have things like Temple Recommend interviews, and a VERY strong culture of uniformity, of following the textbook of Eagle Scout/YW Medallion, Mission, Temple Marriage, children, and serving where placed until released. I think the combination of the TR and the strong culture the church leaders have created over the years lessens our free agency in the LDS church -- significantly -- as there are immediate consequences levied on us for straying from the beat path.
"It doesn't have to be about the Church (church) all the time!" -- SD

"The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. No price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself."

A man asked Jesus "do all roads lead to you?" Jesus responds,”most roads don’t lead anywhere, but I will travel any road to find you.” Adapted from The Shack, William Young

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EuSouScott
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Re: Does Mormonism Allow for Free Agency?

Post by EuSouScott » 09 Jul 2014, 20:09

I think I agree with you both, but I think there is some nuance here.

To clarify or emphasize my point/question, do you think the punishments fit the crime? In so many other religions, disobedience or non orthodox living doesn't even raise an eyebrow. In my world, when people who know I'm Mormon see me holding a Starbucks cup (regardless of its contents) they inevitably comment "I thought you were Mormon".

I use this simply as an example of the expectations placed on Mormons, for better or worse, by members and otherwise. I feel sometimes like our culture of strict obedience and orthodoxy and the social consequences for disobedience STRONGLY COMPEL me to obey, regardless of what I ACTUALLY WANT TO DO. In this sense, I often feel like I have no agency and it makes me have animosity toward the institution (whether it's warranted or not).


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Re: Does Mormonism Allow for Free Agency?

Post by Old-Timer » 09 Jul 2014, 20:18

Do the punishments fit the actions?

Yes and no, depending almost entirely on local leadership - with a strong nod toward "no", since I think injustices occur regularly to one degree or another.

As a church, we still are in our adolescence - and we are better now than in the beginning as far as punishments fitting actions are concerned. We also are FAR better than the Catholic Church and even the Protestant churches were in their adolescence in that regard. Seriously, we aren't even close to their former levels.
I see through my glass, darkly - as I play my saxophone in harmony with the other instruments in God's orchestra. (h/t Elder Joseph Wirthlin)

Even if people view many things differently, the core Gospel principles (LOVE; belief in the unseen but hoped; self-reflective change; symbolic cleansing; striving to recognize the will of the divine; never giving up) are universal.

"For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong." H. L. Mencken

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SunbeltRed
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Re: Does Mormonism Allow for Free Agency?

Post by SunbeltRed » 09 Jul 2014, 20:35

I echo Ray and SD - it absolutely allows for free agency.

I have thought about agency a lot. Elder Maxwell wrote a book, "All These Things Shall Give Thee Experience," in which he essentially argues that God know all of us so well that he will know exactly what we will do and what decisions we will make. Even though it appears that we have agency, because we can't see the big picture, He knows exactly how each of us will make all our decision because He knows us perfectly. It was one of the first times that I read something that I not only did not agree with, but seemed so antithetical to the concept of agency that I could not accept his thesis.

Which made me very sad because I really love Elder Maxwell and I love his writing; he is one of the great masters of prose the church has had. He has written many other things that I love, but I just couldn't agree with him on that.

2nd Nephi Ch. 2 is one my favorite chapters in the BofM. Even though I am not sure where I stand with the BofM it is a chapter that rings true to me. The idea that opposition must exist so that we can have a range of experience, and those experiences will help us know what makes us happy and what makes us sad. And by having experiences on both spectrum's we can know the divine nature in ourselves and the divine nature of the universe. It is a principle that I love, and cling to even through uncertainty.

I am currently reading the book 'The God Who Weeps." The author makes the point that Enoch, in his conversation with God was surprised at God's tears because Enoch had no concept that God wept over his creations and could be saddened by their choices. IMO, that is the God I prefer to worship; The One who gives us agency, and although He knows us so well allows us to make choices that can make Him happy or sad. In a similar vein, I know my children very well, I see their potential, and I often know how will they react to things. Sometimes they surprise me in the positive, and I am filled with joy. Other times their human nature gets the better of them and it makes me sad. I offer rules and sometimes consequences, but in respecting their agency sometimes they make decisions that I was not expecting.

Perhaps Elder Maxwell was correct in that if God is omnipotent, He is able to hold an infinite number of alternate timelines in his mind, and one of those is the path we will follow, but IMHO, even He doesn't know which of those will be the one we follow. [Edit] Then again, I may be wrong about all of this. :smile:

Sorry to wax a bit philosophical and these ideas are perhaps even a bit outside the box for this site, but it doesn't really help you with your question.

I would say that despite the feeling that you are boxed in, your agency exists. Perhaps one path will not be as pleasant as another, perhaps you see your choices as the least bad choice, but you have the ability to choose what that path will be.

During dinner with one of my boss's many moths ago we started talking about religion. She was raised in a home with no religion, only liberal politics and picket lines. She felt equally trapped by having no religion, and force fed political beliefs growing up. She felt like she had missed out on something amazing and beautiful as a child for lacking that sense of community and divinity and now as an adult did not have a starting point or know where to look. My point being, you feel trapped because of your religious upbringing and others feel the opposite. It's mostly just a matter of perspective.

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nibbler
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Re: Does Mormonism Allow for Free Agency?

Post by nibbler » 10 Jul 2014, 06:16

The first thing that pops in my head when talking about Mormonism and lack of agency is the way callings are handled. Right up front I'll say that I see it as a necessary evil. If everyone had agency in selecting their callings I think it would introduce power struggles for high profile callings and certain callings would never be staffed. Still sometimes the programs make me feel like I'm being acted upon instead of acting. At times that feeling can sour the overall experience.

There's probably a nice middle ground in there somewhere. A leader might talk to a member, get a feel for what they would like to do, and then do their best to assign a person to a calling they'd like to have. Sure, not everyone can have the calling they'd like but at least it would show more consideration than making blind assignments to fill immediate needs. In all my yeas of being a member I've never been asked what I'd like to do, an invitation to fulfill a calling has always come out of left field. I agree with SD's post, the culture can apply pressure to accept any calling that is presented to you.

I should back up and say that I don't really see much of a difference between my perceived lack of agency with respect to callings and issues I face with agency in every day life. I might get an assignment at work that I don't care for but I do it. A friend might call me and ask me to do them a favor, I might not feel like doing it but I do it. So maybe a calling is like a favor for a friend... that lasts several years. I think most of my "issues" with callings would go away if the assignments were shorter and if they had a clear expiration date. For better or worse it's nice to know when something will end. Even an assignment at work has its due date, then you move on to the next thing.

---

Remember how most people got a nice chuckle out of the church PR rep's claim that people could ask their questions in SS? If you feel like you need to suppress your questions and comments during SS you might have a culture that suppresses free agency.
Cure sometimes, treat often, comfort always.
— Hippocrates

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Forgotten_Charity
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Re: Does Mormonism Allow for Free Agency?

Post by Forgotten_Charity » 10 Jul 2014, 14:34

I am not a Federalist, because I never submitted the whole system of my opinions to the creed of any party of men whatever in religion, in philosophy, in politics, or in anything else where I was capable of thinking for myself. Such an addiction is the last degradation of a free and moral agent. If I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all.
Well said Thomas Jefferson, well said.

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SamBee
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Re: Does Mormonism Allow for Free Agency?

Post by SamBee » 10 Jul 2014, 17:45

I think you know the answer to this already.

Yes, it does.
No, it tries not to.
Yes, we can say no!

I think undue peer pressure is put on us, but you can turn down callings.
DASH1730 "An Area Authority...[was] asked...who...would go to the Telestial kingdom. His answer: "murderers, adulterers and a lot of surprised Mormons!"'
1ST PRES 1978 "[LDS] believe...there is truth in many religions and philosophies...good and great religious leaders... have raised the spiritual, moral, and ethical awareness of their people. When we speak of The [LDS] as the only true church...it is...authorized to administer the ordinances...by Jesus Christ... we do not mean... it is the only teacher of truth."

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Re: Does Mormonism Allow for Free Agency?

Post by DevilsAdvocate » 11 Jul 2014, 15:16

EuSouScott wrote:...To clarify or emphasize my point/question, do you think the punishments fit the crime? In so many other religions, disobedience or non orthodox living doesn't even raise an eyebrow. In my world, when people who know I'm Mormon see me holding a Starbucks cup (regardless of its contents) they inevitably comment "I thought you were Mormon"....I use this simply as an example of the expectations placed on Mormons, for better or worse, by members and otherwise. I feel sometimes like our culture of strict obedience and orthodoxy and the social consequences for disobedience STRONGLY COMPEL me to obey, regardless of what I ACTUALLY WANT TO DO. In this sense, I often feel like I have no agency and it makes me have animosity toward the institution (whether it's warranted or not).
Maybe in theory Mormonism allows for free agency and certainly members can decide that they don't want to have anything to do with the Church anymore which is especially common for people raised in the Church that don't ever serve a mission or get married in the temple as well as new converts that often don't have as many family/social ties to the Church as many longtime active members do. However, in practice once other members already expect you to go along with the Church's doctrines then if you later change your mind and want to drink coffee, beer, or wine, say no to tithing settlement, stop wearing garments, get a tattoo, openly admit that you believe something significantly different from what the Church teaches, etc. it will often actually be much more difficult than just outwardly playing along with the Church's expectations because going against these existing expectations is currently quite simply not acceptable to many other active members.

So the end result is that the Church has actually effectively limited freedom significantly regarding many everyday decisions that typical Church members make. To be honest the overbearing expectations in the Church that we absolutely need to believe and do all this and if not then it is not alright has generally bothered me even more than any doctrines and claims the Church makes that I don't believe are true. I could easily shrug off hearing Church leaders preach doctrines I that think are wrong for a few hours per week but I mostly want to be able to believe what makes the most sense to me and not feel like I have to keep it secret and I also want to be able to make decisions for myself without having them already made for me in many cases by past Church leaders over 50 years ago but the truth is that having this kind of real freedom is much easier said than done in the Church at this point.
"Truth is what works." - William James

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