The Doctrinal and Philosophical Foundation of Moral Legislation - Introduction

This is Part 1 in a series of articles on the statements made by prophets, apostles, scriptures and philosophers on moral legislation.

Background

When I was in high school back in Arizona I read a book called The Book of Mormon and the Constitution by H. Verlan Andersen. It was the first time I made a connection between the fight for agency during the war in heaven and the fight for freedom on earth today. It hit me like an 18-wheeler. I was dumfounded when I realized how literally the war in heaven is continuing on earth today.

My understanding of the war in heaven was simple. God wanted us to have the opportunity to make mistakes, learn from them, be forgiven through Christ’s atonement, and become infinitely better through our life on earth. I understood Satan’s plan to be a plan of force. Lucifer wanted to force us to be good and somehow claim all the glory for himself instead of giving the glory to God.

In a very simplistic understanding of these two plans, it seems clear that more government is always bad and less government is always good. The more I studied General Conference talks with my new "Freedom Goggles," the more I was amazed how often the brethren discuss the relationship between our doctrines and politics. I was simultaneously confused by how often the brethren talked about using the power of government to pass laws that protect the family by restricting vices. It seemed to me that this conflicted with the position of the church on the "government is bad, freedom is good" principle.

I eventually just decided that we obviously only have the right to do good things and that government has the legitimate power to stop us from doing bad things. But that was difficult for me to reconcile and was constantly being challenged by my very good libertarian friends. I began doing this research because I wanted to better understand agency and rights and the relationship between the war in heaven and the political/philosophical battles on earth today.

My libertarian friends had been telling me we have the unalienable rights to do whatever we want so long as it doesn’t measurably damage somebody’s life, liberty, or property. They said I shouldn’t have to rely on appeals to authority and that I should be able to use pure reason to defend my arguments for moral legislation. That frustrated me because I didn’t expect to find any philosophers who influenced the Founders that would agree with the prophets. I also believed I shouldn’t have to set my religion on the shelf when making my own decisions about how to vote.

I started this research with a desire to simply vindicate myself. I wanted to understand my own position so well that I could confidently respond to libertarians who attack my perspectives, regardless of whether they could be convinced of what I believe.

Amazingly, this research has produced more than I could have ever dreamed. I can now confidently say that I know without a doubt that I understand what the prophets have been trying to teach about this subject. I also can say with absolute confidence that the Founders were influenced by philosophers who believed the same.

I started my research by creating a philosophical proof, like a mathematical proof. I made a list of the things I felt needed to be true in order for moral legislation to be justifiable, and then document the prophets teaching every single principle. I decided every single point needed to be true and citable for me to feel comfortable endorsing moral legislation, beyond just voting for it. I’m ecstatic to say I’ve found far more than I was looking for.

Main Principles Taught by Prophets

The following points make up the proof that I felt needed to be validated before I could endorse moral legislation. My original list was actually only 9 or 10 principles but through reading nearly 100 General Conference talks I’ve found several more principles that needed to be included.
  1. Agency is power over our bodies, not freedom from consequence. Agency is not the permission to sin, but it is the power to sin.
  2. Agency is still subject to Divine Law.
  3. Our law is based on Natural Law.
  4. Natural law only gives us the rights to do the things which improve, perfect, and perpetuate our lives. Nature gives us no right to do anything that tends to our destruction.
  5. Natural Law IS Divine Law, which includes commandments.
  6. Unalienable rights originate from Natural/Divine Law.
  7. Both public and private behavior affects everyone else, even if only through bad example.
  8. Indirect effect and “bad example” is even sufficient enough to warrant moral legislation.
  9. Morality cannot be legislated (legislation doesn’t change hearts), but immorality must be legislated.
  10. Satan’s plan was to force us to do good, not to punish bad behavior.
  11. God’s plan of incentives is to reward good behavior and punish bad behavior.
  12. If God truly gave us the permission to sin, then He would be unjust for ever punishing sin.
  13. Freedom isn’t binary, it’s a spectrum ranging from 100% to 0%, total freedom to total oppression. The degree of freedom that we should be seeking is called liberty, “true freedom,” or the “liberty of the soul,” the point where freedom is perfectly and morally restrained and where total mastery and control over our bodies is maximized.
  14. In the eyes of God’s people, freedom is a means to an end, not the end itself. The true end goal is perfectly restrained freedom through self mastery.

Explanation

The following is a summary of the principles taught by prophets, apostles, scriptures, and philosophers throughout this book.

Agency is the power that God has given us over bodies that He created, owns, and maintains with his power. We do not own our own bodies. Agency is the power to have full control over our bodies–it is not the license or permission to do whatever we wish with them. It is what the brethren call a “moral agency,” or a power with standards and rules attached.

Anything that God has given us permission to do with our bodies is called an “unalienable right,” meaning a right that cannot be taken from us without the offender coming under the judgement of God. We do not have the “right” or permission to do anything with our bodies that is wrong according to God’s law, nor do we have the right to neglect to fulfill our moral obligations. If agency truly was the permission to do anything we want to do, then He would be unjust the moment he punishes sin and He would cease to be God. 

Contrary to statements made by libertarians, laws that punish wickedness promote agency, not destroy it. Anything that assists men and women in having greater control over their own bodies protects and restores agency, while anything that causes a loss of control of our bodies through addiction and vice and degradation of our bodies and minds destroys agency. True liberty and true freedom exists in developing perfect control over our bodies.

The philosophers have taught that natural law gives man the right to do anything that preserves and perfects our lives, and refuses us the right to anything that tends to damage and destroy our bodies or the life, liberty and property of others. American constitutional law finds its foundations in natural law which ties back to divine law. The philosophers have taught that because human reason is foggy and imperfect, it has been necessary for God to intervene by providing revelations that are recorded in the scriptures. The scriptures exist to correct, guide, and assist our reason and philosophy.

The scriptures teach us that Lucifer’s plan was to withhold agency by manipulating our thoughts, desires, and actions. In Satan’s plan, we have absolutely no control over our own bodies. We would simply be along for the ride.

If we were in the back of a car with no access to the controls and no power to influence the driver, we would be completely unaccountable for the actions of the driver. In the same way, if Satan were in total control of our bodies, we would be unaccountable for the sins or righteous actions committed by our bodies. Satan’s plan would completely destroy the purpose of life and God’s plan for our growth.

There are subtle but fundamental differences between God’s plan and Satan’s plan. Lucifer’s plan was to compel righteousness by controlling our behavior. God’s plan is to incentivise righteousness by punishing wickedness and rewarding obedience. In Satan’s plan we have no choice or no power to act on our decisions. In God’s plan we have total control over our bodies but there are very clear consequences for our actions. Rewards and punishments can hardly be called compulsion, force, or a destruction of agency.

The phrase legislating morality is a misnomer, because in reality morality or goodness cannot be forced because it comes from within. Obedience can be strongly persuaded through threats and coercion, but ‘goodness’ is a decision. Libertarianism says that moral legislation is ultimately ineffective in changing hearts, to which the brethren seem to agree, adding that it is only the doctrines and truths of the gospel that create a lasting change of heart. On the other hand, social conservatives are seeking to prevent moral deterioration by pushing sin out of the public spotlight and back into the closets. Legislating against immorality is a defensive action to protect families.

Not only do God’s prophets and apostles teach that it is not an infringement on the unalienable right of others to create laws that protect morality, they have taught it is our responsibility to do exactly that. Because God hates sending his children into families and bodies that are being destroyed by wickedness, He uses his judgements to cleanse the land of wickedness. The righteous are always affected by these judgements, so they have a direct interest in preventing wickedness through the power of legislation.

Defining Terms

The terms “agency,” “rights,” “liberty,” and “freedom” each have very specific and unique definitions. It is clear from a thorough study of the words of the prophets and apostles that these terms are not always used accurately–even by the brethren, in the same way the phrase the “kingdom of God” has been given multiple totally conflicting definitions by those providing passing reference or incomplete explanation.

Only by studying this topic over the span of dozens of talks and scriptures can the correct definitions be ascertained. Those who base their entire perspective on legislating morality on a couple quotes will surely fail to grasp the entire picture that has been clearly articulated by prophets and apostles for the past nearly 200 years.

Here are the definitions I’ve identified through a very rigorous study of statements made by prophets and apostles.

AGENCY — The power God has given us over bodies that He created, owns, and maintains by His priesthood power. This power over these bodies (Notice I called them "these bodies" not "our bodies" because the scriptures teach that we are not [yet] our own.) gives us the capacity to act on our desires and the decisions that we make. 
RIGHTS — The permission that God gave us for the use of our bodies which defines our standards of right and wrong. Rights are identified in scripture and are always associated with commandments. Rights describe what God expects us to do with our bodies during our time on earth, and anything that people do to prevent us from fulfilling our responsibilities puts them in God’s judgement.
FREEDOM — The opportunity to make a specific decision without fear of punishment from others. Freedom is not binary, it is a spectrum ranging from 0% freedom, or complete tyranny, to 100% freedom, or anarchy.
LIBERTY — The state of perfectly restrained freedom which ensures a total protection of all unalienable rights.

The Freedom Spectrum

In reality, the freedom spectrum is fairly complicated. In a state of complete tyranny, not everybody suffers from 0% freedom. The wicked who work to please the dictator(s) enjoy much greater freedom than the righteous. In a state of total anarchy, the wicked who are willing to hurt and abuse their neighbors for personal gain enjoy greater freedom than those they oppress. So the freedom of the wicked is actually a bimodal distribution with peaks at the extreme ends of the spectrum. The place where the freedom of the righteous is maximized is somewhere in the middle where the Founders called "the balanced center." It’s the location where the righteous and the wicked enjoy exactly the same rights and freedoms, where all ‘men’ truly are equal. This is LIBERTY.

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