Disclaimer: I am not saying that the Church is wrong, or its stances are wrong, but simply commenting on the current Church culture and our knee jerk, overblown reactions about freedom within our doctrine of free agency.
One of the biggest things I hear from Mormons against President Obama is that he’s a fetching socialist. And one of the biggest blows against socialism I hear is that it curtails free agency.
Now, socialism relating to the gospel is a sticky subject. It requires a lot of thought, dedication, definition and organization and a ton more words than I could write about the subject, and so I focus mostly on the idea of free agency and freedom.
We would think that free agency and freedom are one and the same. Free agency plays a huge part in our gospel doctrine. God tells us that the devil “rebelled against me, saying, Give me thine honor, which is my power; and also a third part of the hosts of heaven turned he away from me because of their agency…And it must needs be that the devil should tempt the children of men, or they could not be agents unto themselves; for if they never should have bitter they could not know the sweet” (Doctrine and Covenants 29:36, 38). We believe Satan strives to destroy agency, that it was his plan in the beginning to force the children of God into exaltation without any choice of their own. We strive to protect our agency, and that agency is also our downfall – “Behold, here is the agency of man, and here is the condemnation of man; because that which was from the beginning is plainly manifest unto them, and they receive not the light” (Doctrine and Covenants 93:31).
And so anything that restricts our freedom would automatically restrict our free agency, correct? Thus, the government should stay out of our affairs!
But such an argument does not follow. The Church has become involved in several political issues – namely, abortion and gay marriage. They have supported legislation curtailing these acts, and should that not curtail agency? Has the Church become like unto Satan?
The crux of agency, and where most of the confusion and misinterpretation comes from, is what free moral agency is for. This power to choose is not exercised when we decide to have cereal instead of toast for breakfast, or if we decide we like the Wii better than the Playstation 3. In fact, a man could be tied up and injected with a paralyzing agent, unable to move, to blink, to speak, to do any action, and he will retain his agency. The government could throw a man into the deepest, darkest dungeon with no chance of escape and even then, he retains his agency.
Free agency applies only to one specific decision – to choose God or to reject Him.
Free agency does not involve whether or not you can decide your own career. Free agency does not involve whether or not you can own a gun. Free agency does not involve whether or not you have to pay taxes. All such decisions are irrelevant in the eternal scope – the only decision worth making is whether or not you choose to worship God.
The people of Alma, fleeing from the oppressive King Noah, jumps out of the frying pan and into the fire as they are captured by Lamanites and put under the rule of the very people they tried to escape. The chief bad guy is Amulon, and he attempts to suppress Alma’s people politically – “he exercised authority over them, and put tasks upon them, and put task-masters over them. And it came to pass that so great were their afflictions that they began to cry mightily to God. And Amulon commanded them that they should stop their cries; and he put guards over them to watch them, that whosoever should be found calling upon God should be put to death” (Mosiah 24:9-11).
No matter how much conservative Mormons complain about the current administration, we can at least say no federal officer watches over us as we become the government’s literal slaves and are put to death if we pray out loud. But even under such a totalitarian, seemingly freedom lacking environment, Alma and his people never lose their agency:
“And Alma and his people did not raise their voices to the Lord their God, but did pour out their hearts to him; and he did know the thoughts of their hearts” (Mosiah 24:12).
Perhaps the truly ironic part of free agency is that it never makes us truly free, in the worldly sense. In the end, we choose our master and give up our freedom to that master – either Satan or God. If we don’t choose one, we automatically choose the other by default. If you rebel against Satan, you fall under the auspices of God; if you rebel against God, you give up control to Satan. There is no situation in this predicament of all of God’s children where we have autonomy, any sense of traditional freedom. In essence, it is as the saying goes: “Pick your poison.” Either way, our will is swallowed up by one entity or the other.
Of course, as latter-day saints, we understand this, or at least claim we do. Adherence to the commandments gives us true freedom – from guilt, from sorrow, from disappointment, from bitterness, from pain, from hurt, from spiritual death. But adherence to the commandments also deprives us of freedom – to seeking after base pleasures, to over-indulge, to temporary happiness, to instant gratification. When we choose Christ, we are still yoked; it’s just His yoke is much more preferable to Satan’s shackles.
When we claim that something is “bad” because it supposedly robs us of our free agency, stop and think. Is this argument, in fact, incredibly intellectually and spiritually lazy? Do we oversimplify a complex situation by using what we could call the free agency card? Perhaps the biggest violator of this sense of logic (aside from its association of socialism) is the BYU Honor Code. The BYU Honor Code is a grievous burden to be borne and more fascist than most socialists’ dream regimes. Regulations on hair length? Curfew times more strict than ones I endured in high school? The inability to use the bathroom of an opposite gender’s apartment except under dire circumstances and emergencies? Certainly these can be considered oppressive to the freedom loving American. However, it is important to note that under the same system, one person can still worship God, while the other rejects Him. The system does not squash one choice over the other; it still can be made. No agency has been curtailed.
As members of the Church, we are to love intelligence, for “the glory of God is intelligence” (Doctrine and Covenants 93:36). As Brigham Young put it, “If men would be great in goodness, they must be intelligent.” As we consider the world, its history, its ideas and philosophies, let us not dismiss them with a derisive, overly casual tone by insisting it takes away our agency; very little can take away our agency completely, for if that were possible, it would be too easy to stifle the very existence of God; but let us consider them for what they are worth – fine, multi-faceted diamonds of which it will take time and effort for our minds to taste, chew and digest. The kingdom of God has no room or need for the intellectually and spiritually lazy.
Moral of the Story: If you think something is limiting your free agency and is of the devil, stop and think. Do you truly understand what free agency means, or are you simply being intellectually lazy so that you don’t have to use your brain?