I recently saw this article that a facebook friend posted. I was reading it, and I realized that this talk represents the pinnacle of why I will probably never believe in the LDS religion again. I realize that so many people can brush this off as just being “the words of a man” but that is exactly why I cannot follow such a religion. Elder Oaks in this article says: “We must stress the fundamental truths on which our beliefs are based. Ultimately, these include the existence of God and the eternal reality of the truths and the right and wrong defined by His teachings and His commandments.” The question here is what is the “right and wrong” defined by “[God’s] teaching and His commandments”?
After talking about Korihor (an anti-Christ figure in the Book of Mormon), Elder Oak’s goes on to explain that the idea of moral relativism and secular humanism is most influential in the world of higher education. I would definitely agree with this, because the more you study about things like physical science, psychology, sociology, and similar subjects the more you begin to understand that the way we as humans reason is through our experience. We look at situations and events and analyze how they reciprocate themselves over time. The biggest problem with religion is that it is a SUBJECTIVE topic which no academia can model. Each person will have his or her own experience with a God or gods or other beings. There is no consistent way of replicating one’s personal religious experience, so those in the higher education setting who are used to this methodology have a hard time accepting a belief in something that is not objectively proven.
Elder Oaks then goes on to give this statement: “This is the belief applied by many in the popular media and in current peer pressure. ‘Break free of the old rules. Do what feels good to you. There is no accountability beyond what man’s laws or public disapproval impose on those who are caught.’ Behind such ideas is the assumption that there is no God or, if there is, He has given no commandments that apply to us today.” I completely disagree with the statement that doing what feels good to you is assuming that there is no God, or that he has not given any commandments. Moral relativism is just stating that there is no objective way of finding any all-encompassing moral code. For example in Islam there are many commandments which Christians break every day. This does not mean that Christians do not believe in God, but merely that their interpretation of God and his commandments is different. So how can one truly know what God’s commandments are except for doing what one FEELS good doing. Isn’t this in fact one of the ways that we are taught in Mormonism the spirit works with us. So what happens if I don’t feel right at church, does that mean that the spirit is telling me I shouldn’t be there? No matter how you look at it there’s no way of knowing if there is or isn’t a God, and what his commandments might be objectively. The only way we can find out is by our SUBJECTIVE experience with religion. Deciding which religion is the true religion is very subjective, everyone has different experiences and will interpret those experiences for themselves. That will lead them to conform to the commandments that a particular religion claims are his commandments, or maybe even they will adapt those religious standards to their own subjective understanding.
I personally subscribe to the idea of moral relativism. I understand that I have my own thoughts on morality or what I feel is right and wrong due to my own personality and subjective personal experiences. I also accept the fact that others experiences will be different, and I can allow them their own personal moral code. I do not consider myself a secular humanist because although I do not feel like religion is my moral guide; I like to be open minded to new experiences that could change my opinion. According to my personal system of what is right and what is wrong, the only thing that I feel is innately right and wrong for everyone is allowing others to develop their sense of morality for themselves. Yes that includes things that could be harmful to society. That doesn’t mean that I condone their behavior, I only condone their feelings towards such behavior. I will discuss this later when I define the difference between social contract and morality. I would like to discuss (first) why Elder Oaks is so very wrong with criticizing secular humanists comparing them to the abominable church which claims they make themselves gods and their purpose is to get wealth and power over others.
To call those that subscribe to the philosophy of secular humanism to the evil church or the last days is just as offensive as it would be for me to call the LDS church a cult (if not more so). Part of secular humanism is all about developing an altruistic morality, so why would one who is altruistic attempt to get gain from others or gain power over others? They wouldn’t, so by definition a secular humanist (if one truly subscribes to the essence of the philosophy) would teach all of the things Jesus taught minus the part about God. So to compare them to evil people teaching false doctrine to get gain is absurd. Last time I checked secular humanism is one the philosophies one could subscribe to without tithing or a donation plate being pushed on them. Church leaders have the potential to gain much more wealth and power than any leader in a humanist movement because humanists are all about equality and would avoid putting one person above another.
Elder Oaks quotes a BYU professor in saying, “Humanism makes a man to be god, the supreme being, and the educated human mind becomes the arbiter of all that is true, good and beautiful.” This is an incorrect statement as god is a construct of religion. Humanism does not make man to be god because it does not talk about god at all. But if we look at it in this light, how do we follow God and know is commandments. Well according to the LDS church if something does not agree with the doctrine of the church then one can throw it out as false. What happens when one feels like the spirit is telling them truth, yet it challenges the teachings of a church leader which has been accepted as doctrine? That person then is typically told that what they received was in fact not revelation from God as it contradicts the truth God has given us through his prophets. So because a prophet is God’s mouthpiece, a prophet essentially becomes God. So although we may fear man becoming gods, should we not also fear the possibility that perhaps God has become a man? Essentially a leader of a church who teaches that he is in fact God’s mouthpiece on earth has Godly powers over his congregation. But is that power something God gave to him/her, or something that his congregation gives to him/her? I won’t answer that question, but I would encourage one to think about it.
So now that we have all that out of the way, we can get to the true meat of what this talk was about really: protecting religious rights in America. With all this talk of same-sex marriage many religious organizations are feeling “oppressed” just because they can’t pass laws to force people to live a certain way. If one understands well the founding fathers of this country and their philosophies, then one would also be very familiar with the social contract and how that philosophy played a role in the forming of the US Constitution. Each person in this country is believed to have an unalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (or at least that’s what the Declaration of Independence states). It is my understanding that the Constitution and all the amendments thereof are to ensure all American people these liberties. I am no law expert so forgive me if I am misinterpreting all of this. A government is a man-made institution and the laws thereof where made to govern men. The revolution was fought for some because they wanted freedom from the Church of England. In the same respect religion was to be free of the government, but in the same respect government was also to be free of religion. So you see the social contract that we agree to live by as citizens is far different from any moral code given by a God or gods. But from my understanding this entire hubbub is all about how the government is getting dangerously close to violating the first amendment right of the freedom of religion. If that’s the case then God’s moral laws have nothing to do with it.
So let’s talk about this freedom of religion. Congress cannot make any law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibit the free exercise thereof. So let’s talk about a good example: same sex marriage. Is making same-sex marriage legal making a law respecting the establishment of religion? I don’t see a connection at all between the two. Some say “marriage is a religious institution”, but then I would respond by saying that the rights given by marriage are through the government. Rights such as visitation, tax and inheritance, and legal stuff like wills are all governed by men not God. So I don’t see how marriage is a religious institution. Sure maybe God doesn’t accept the marriage, or a church might not accept the marriage, but that’s not the debate that’s going on. It’s trying to get the government to accept the legal marriage.
I won’t go into the whole legal aspect of this stuff, the Supreme Court rulings, or the quotes from Thomas Jefferson because that would make this twice as long. I just want to point out that there is a difference between legal marriage and religious marriage. For example a temple sealing is the only thing that the LDS God views as a real eternal marriage anyways. So therefore it seems to me that any legal ruling on marriage does not affect the celestial status of marriage. In fact in other countries (such as Brazil) you are required to have a legal wedding outside the temple before being sealed inside. There is a clear separation there between religious marriage and a civil marriage. That’s all the US government is doing by accepting legal same sex marriages is saying that the CIVIL part of the marriage is legal. A friend did point out to me that the LDS church does put value into civil marriage. Actually since most Christian churches don't have temple sealings like the LDS church does I realize that this argument is fairly weak. So I would like to restate that a church will decide what marriage is accepted by God or not. There are states in the US and also other countries where gay marriage is legal. A church that claims homosexuality as a sin will claim that this couple's marriage is not condoned by God. So the problem isn't that churches don't give value to any civil marriage, the problem is that a church decides what marriage has value to God and what doesn't. After all the LDS church performed a good number of polygamous marriages after it was illegal in the US. So although these marriages were recognized by God they weren't recognized by the US government. I feel that the US had not right to say that polygamy should be illegal, but at the same time the church accepted that God would accept the marriage whether or not the government would.
So let me explain to you why the freedom of religion is not under attack. Lawmakers are legally prevented from passing any law which gives any advantages or disadvantages to any religion. However there is a caveat that religious members must abide by the law of the land. The law of the land is always the higher law according to civil law. That’s because we live in a society of people, and we need rules from people. Someone who is LDS and always talks about church leaders “acting as men” should understand this very well. We have structure in the government because we deal with many people, and that structure is independent of any belief in anything. It’s purely people dealing with people.
The fact that any church is getting involved in any way in the political process is actually a violation of the first amendment. Having a church pay for lobbying in Congress or fund and or provide materials and manpower as a church in any political activity would be to promote preferential treatment of that church or religion. Preferential treatment for any church or religion is exactly why we have the first amendment. So you see a church or religion getting involved in processes such as legalizing the use of marijuana or same sex marriage is in fact a violation of the separation of church and state set forth in the first amendment. This is because it gives preferential treatment lawfully to people of one church or religion and does not give equal rights to all. So all of you church folks complaining that your first amendment rights are under attack just know that you’ve been attacking the first amendment rights of others this whole time.
Now don’t get me wrong there is nothing wrong with individual people who belong to a religion or church to lobby for what they believe in. Just know that Congress cannot pass any such law regarding religion at all, so in other words a legal marriage as defined by Congress is in fact not religious. So pushing for your religious definition of marriage would be to push for a law that does in fact violate the first amendment because you are pushing for it due to your religious beliefs. So think on that carefully next time you write to your congressman: is what I’m pushing for something that has to do with religion? If it is then you should probably rethink the constitutionality of what you’re pushing for. It’s true that forcing a church to perform a religious marriage that is against its own doctrine would be in my opinion unconstitutional, and I would fight for their right to not be forced to do so. On the other hand: to prohibit a church or just a plain civil marriage that doesn’t agree with someone’s interpretation of the Bible is also (in my opinion) unconstitutional. That’s true to make it illegal to teach creationism in school would also be a violation of the first amendment, but to not teach evolution also fits into that category. So let’s just teach our kids all the viewpoints and let them decide for themselves what they think. After all isn’t that what LDS doctrine believes life is all about?
So I will just say this. To make man’s laws God’s laws would make God into a man and having to abide by man’s rules. To make man into a god would require that one puts themselves at a status of deity and the mentality of being a higher power. Neither of these viewpoints fits in with the founding fathers viewpoint of the social contract. I’m not saying we have to follow what they say or did, after all they expected society would change and if they really were smart would applaud the way that we evolve the government as society evolves. That is in fact a government FOR the people being changed BY the people. So all I want to say in closing is that God is not a man, and man is in no form a god. We are all just humans, however we got here no one knows. All we know is that if we have to deal with each other we should probably respect each other’s views. There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven. I view that as explaining that things are put into context, and taking things out of context makes for a big mess. So let’s leave the politics in Washington and the religion in church. Leave the parenting to the parents, the educating to the educators. If we all accept the role we play in society, and accept the role that others play in society in the scope of one’s own role perhaps we as a society can learn to function the way society was meant to: everything at the appropriate time and place.