Inquisitive Pat 11 – YOU are the check/balance
Submitted by admin on Sun, 02/01/2015 – 10:38
Inquisitive Part 11: YOU are the check/balance
I remember approaching my dad for advice, and he responded with anti-advice. “You are the one entitled to revelation about your life, and you are the only one entitled to it. I can’t tell you what you should do.” The closest he got to pointing me in a particular direction was to outline the process for personal revelation (to use the LDS term):
(1) Put real effort into thinking about it and then make a decision.
(2) Pray about whether your decision is best, trusting that the answer will come.
(3) Listen for the answer, especially noticing feelings of peace or uneasiness.
(4) Adjust, if necessary and then…go for it.
As a footnote, he would say to remember how you felt when you got your answer because you might need courage at some point. It’s too easy to talk yourself out of moving forward.
Someday I hope to share this advice with my daughter.
When the time is right I will also pass down another warning my parents leveled at me. I can hear my dad’s passion in these words, “Remember. You alone are responsible for your salvation. Don’t ever abdicate that to someone else. Do what you believe is right by your own conscience. You stand up for it. Got that?”
My folks walked the talk. They bucked the establishment as their business was a nuisance to the FDA and their line of work ran counter to norms of the day. People thought they were a little nuts. Later, my dad ran for political office with my mom by his side, on a platform of conviction. The party uppers did not embrace their ideas, and they used personal funds for the campaign. My parents were devout Mormons who genuinely believed, yet marched to their own drummer. They never held high office in the church, and I really can’t imagine it because my dad wouldn’t keep his trap shut.
Agree or disagree with their views, you’ve got to hand it to them; they lived their values. My dad confided to me once that he really did care what people thought about him, and these words caught me off guard. He seemed so self-assured and willing to stand alone, well, as long as my mom was in it too. I’m glad he opened up so I could see that everyone is vulnerable. We all want to fit in. It’s just that some people have enough guts to do what is right when others pooh-pooh it.
This is what it means to follow your own true north. Every functional human is endowed with a compass that tells us right from wrong. Parents and society at large help us calibrate that compass, especially while we’re children. I believe that a person’s true north can be ignored or suppressed, but if we dig deep it is always inside pointing the way.
When I went back to church, I discovered that this was an important idea in Mormonism. The doctrine of personal revelation was like a golden thread woven tight into the fabric of our religion. It gave me hope.
A picture emerged of a beautiful check-and-balance system. It was like how the founding fathers put a system of checks to keep government from running roughshod, with formal branches balancing each other. My last post presented the idea that anything powerful is also dangerous, and religion is both. Joseph Smith introduced the idea of balanced religion when he embraced personal revelation.
The beauty of the LDS Church is that it contains two important checks that fall upon individual members. The first check is a lay clergy where ordinary people serve at all levels, and local leadership rotates. People don’t hold lifetime positions in congregations, which means they can’t get too cozy in leadership. It also means we’re close enough to the humans in charge to understand that no one’s perfect. For this reason, we might question certain actions from time to time, respectfully of course. (Next year, we might have that job.)
The second and most important check is the notion of personal revelation mentioned earlier. You are entitled to know for yourself if any given doctrine or policy is right. Missionaries urge investigators to study the word and to pray for their own answers. The church is confident that you will receive the correct answer but I caution that it is your right and responsibility alone, whatever you come to.
It comes down to this: people are the ultimate check/balance against any institution. You, the individual, are the last line of defense against the evil empire. An institution is only a static structure and people at all levels become the living, breathing body. Even a church is only as good as the humans who collectively make it. Thus, there is a time to speak up and push back.
Before getting smug about how it’s all up to you, though, remember this. Church is also a balance against your potential folly. Structure is provided to keep any life within bounds and headed toward the light. This is the path of safety. Commandments and proverbs have withstood time and are remarkably consistent across cultures for a reason. It’s hard to argue the clean living prescribed within the church and if you follow the most basic version of the gospel, I doubt you’ll have much in the way of regrets. When it comes to personal decisions, if you receive revelation that you should break a big 10-rule, well, I suggest caution. But hey, it’s not my job to live your life. Only you are responsible for you. You cannot abdicate your salvation to anybody else, not even the church.
As a related note, if you’re not an organized religion kind of person, then just know that laws, rules of ethics and social mores serve basically the same purpose.
The important point is that none of this it is infallible. Whole societies can go awry, humans sometimes act with selfish intent, and institutions might wield unrighteous dominion over their members. Like with most truths, the sweet spot is somewhere in the middle, a balance between structure and your individual accountability. And whatever else, never ever squelch your own true north.
(Next up: when my personal conscience collided with the religion)