You may have known or realized from the previous post concerning comprehension as illustrated through Constantine that the film itself is R-rated. For some this alone, by default, becomes a deal-breaker. But why is this so? The logic could run anywhere from “I could glean the same point from a more wholesome source” to the extreme of “All R-rated films are morally bereft”. I wonder, though, if such assertions necessarily accommodate all life experiences. That is, are people from all of life’s diverse paths equally receptive to a Hallmark* approach? Or is that same approach capable of conveying answers to all of life’s possible experiences? The following is one of any number of possible conversations that portray the basis of this inquiry.
Janice: Ya know, I’ve been thinking.
Robert: Yeah? Did it hurt?
Janice: Ha ha, jerkface. No, seriously though.
Janice: I’ve really been digging Rage Against the Machine lately and…, I think that Christ would understand the frustration and sense of injustice they convey.
Robert: But they swear.
Janice: I know there’s swearing, but I think that that’s a part of where they come from in their own lives and that Christ can see past that with understanding.
Robert: So Christ condones swearing?
Janice: No, that’s not what I’m saying. I just believe that the general message that the band is trying to spread is grounded in ideals that Christ promotes and that it could be a means for some people to identify with it. You know, people who might otherwise not.
Robert: So…, we’ll be like listening to Rage in heaven?
Janice: I don’t know…, some maybe.
Robert: That’s some ridiculous justification. You need help.
Janice. Whatever. Nevermind.
Robert and Janice represent two differing approaches to what is considered morally sound. In the realm of ethics, these sides are termed ‘idealism’ and ‘relativism’. The author and social psychologist, Donelson Forsyth, explains them as follows:
“[Donelson] Forsyth proposed that we think about these individual preferences in terms of two factors: (1) idealism or the person’s concerns for the welfare of others; and (2) relativism or the person’s emphasis on ethical principles being dependent on the situation rather than being applicable to all situations. Idealism is related to what we referred to as thinking about consequences. For example, individuals high on idealism believe that one should always avoid harming other people in ethical dilemma situations, while non-idealists believe that “it depends” because “harm is sometimes . . . necessary to produce good”. Relativism is more related to deontological (principle rather than consequence) theories and our focus on principles. For example, individuals who are low on relativism believe that all situations are subject to universal ethical principles (such as honesty). On the other hand, individuals who are high on relativism believe that people should weigh the particular circumstances in a situation when making decisions, because there are no universal ethical principles that determine right action in every situation. Research suggests that those high on idealism are more likely to have ethical intentions and to be critical of unethical behavior. This is probably because idealists are more concerned about anything they might do that would harm others. By contrast, high relativism has been found associated with unethical intentions, perhaps because relativists who do not follow clear ethical principles find it easier to rationalize unethical behavior.” 1
So idealism follows that there are basic ethical rules that should always be adhered to while relativism argues that the correct course of action is circumstantial. And while research has shown relativism (in its extreme at least) is often derived from unethical intentions I believe it is the correct platform from which a disciple should base their approach to the Gospel given that particular attributes are developed as safeguards. Another hypothetical conversation illustrates this idea.
Dan: Hey Nephi, missed you last week in Elder’s Quorum. Things alright?
Nephi: Yeah uh…, we were out of town.
Dan: Camping, eh? How’d that go for you?
Nephi: Um, it was a bit rougher than we anticipated.
Dan: Oh yeah? What happened?
Nephi: Well, you hear about what happened to Laban?
Dan: Oh man, yeah. I mean the guy was a jerk, no denying that. But vigilante decapitation? Man, that’s just harsh.
Nephi: Yeah well…, it was me.
Dan: Ha! That’s some twisted humor man.
Dan: Wait. You serious?!
Dan: Dude, are you insane? We’re supposed to like stone you for something like that! What were you thinking?
Nephi: I don’t know. It’s hard to explain. The Holy Spirit kind of constrained me to do it.
Dan: But Moses told us not to kill. He’s the prophet!
Nephi: I know, I know. It’s sounds crazy, but yeah, the Spirit persuaded me that it needed to be done.
Dan: Beware the spirit you listeth to obey, Nephi. The Holy Spirit would never go against the Prophet!
Nephi: I know what I did, and I know for what purpose I did it. My heart is right with God.
Dan: No man. You’re deluded. Leave now, and if you value your life you won’t come back.
The platform of clear rules of conduct is indeed a safe one. But as Forysth explained, it also leaves little room for understanding the motivations behind the actions of others operating outside those rules. We can become critical of others, even if not vocally. Departing from this foundation, however, to embrace a more spiritually dynamic approach to life is not without its inherent risks (remember the unethical intentions?). The higher path is indeed fraught with treacherous footing. Research showed relativism gravitated towards unethical intentions and Forsyth inferred therefrom that it resulted from the inclination to marginalize and rationalize. Does Janice really connect Rage Against the Machine’s ideology with that of Christ, or is she simply easing her own guilty conscience for listening to music with profanity? Did the movie Constantine spiritually alert me to the dangers of ‘doing’ or am I simply alluding as much to excuse my delighting in violence? The difference rests on a razor’s edge and determines whether the individual ascends in light, truth, and understanding or plummets into the dark depths of self-deception, hedonism, and guile.
So what now? Should we all go out diving in mud looking for diamonds? How would I know from what sources the spirit would specifically resonate with me and how should I seek these out? How might I discern if one’s claim of truth from a given source is mistaken, even if the individual is sincere? How could this pursuit not devolve into a utter chaos? These are valid questions and I honestly have little in way of concrete answers, though the headache of managing this dilemma is not new. Joseph Smith faced similar problems when trying to wean gospel-converts from looking to man (himself included) for direction.
“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has also had its false spirits; and as it is made up of all those different sects professing every variety of opinion, and having been under the influence of so many kinds of spirits, it is not to be wondered at if there should be found among us false spirits.
Soon after the Gospel was established in Kirtland, and during the absence of the authorities of the Church, many false spirits were introduced, many strange visions were seen, and wild, enthusiastic notions were entertained; men ran out of doors under the influence of this spirit, and some of them got upon the stumps of trees and shouted, and all kinds of extravagances were entered into by them; one man pursued a ball that he said he saw flying in the air, until he came to a precipice, when he jumped into the top of a tree, which saved his life; and many ridiculous things were entered into, calculated to bring disgrace upon the Church of God, to cause the Spirit of God to be withdrawn, and to uproot and destroy those glorious principles which had been developed for the salvation of the human family…
There have also been ministering angels in the Church which were of Satan appearing as an angel of light. A sister in the state of New York had a vision, who said it was told her that if she would go to a certain place in the woods, an angel would appear to her. She went at the appointed time, and saw a glorious personage descending, arrayed in white, with sandy colored hair; he commenced and told her to fear God, and said that her husband was called to do great things, but that he must not go more than one hundred miles from home, or he would not return; whereas God had called him to go to the ends of the earth, and he has since been more than one thousand miles from home, and is yet alive. Many true things were spoken by this personage, and many things that were false.” -TPJS, p. 213-214
I previously defined Zion as being individuals tied together by the cause of love moving through life as each was impressed and I can see how such a basis can initially devolve to a transitory chaos as an infant ‘body of Christ’. Indeed, this may even be a natural process in spiritual development. As such, producing a comprehensive list of “approved materials or sources” as a means of managing this is not only ludicrous in scope, but violates the very purpose of spiritual progression on the higher path. Truth will manifest itself in variety matched in scale only by the differences in God’s own children and the vastness of life experiences. Discerning truth for yourself is an individual exercise and an inherent part of discovering the vibrant universe.
“One of the grand fundamental principles of “Mormonism” is to receive truth, let it come from whence it may.” -TPJS, p. 313
“We should gather all the good and true principles in the world and treasure them up, or we shall not come out true “Mormons”. -TPJS, p. 316
“I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves.” -Millenial Star, 15 Nov. 1851, p. 339
A final word on these ‘correct principles’ before concluding. I mentioned before “safeguards” that would keep a spiritual-relativist disciple’s heart right with Christ. These safeguards are the qualities of honesty, accountability, and maturity.
Self-honesty is both the igniting catalyst and last bastion of the penitent heart. One caught in the thralls of darkness always sees a piercing ray of redeeming hope so long as he or she acknowledges, with no degree of deceit, the harm and subsequent emptiness of sin. When evaluating truth from any source do not be tempted to overestimate (or misconstrue) the light proposition or downplay accompanying darkness (if any). Weigh the matter with objectivity and your heart will feel increased by the material in question, or it will not.
Failing to accept responsibility for one’s mistake has two debilitating consequences. The missed opportunity to learn therefrom and the glaring possibility of committing it again. I have seen this in the excuse of blaming an addiction for an action and as a demand for mitigated consequences. Not only will one fail to determine why the behavior developed to begin with, but the blame tactic remains handy should the cycle repeat. If you are mistaken in your truth-seeking, be honest with yourself and own it. Make amends where necessary, determine how and why you were mistaken and move on. Regain your footing and continue the ascent.
Maturity is understanding and the wisdom in knowing when one does not. A mature adult may understand love as a commitment to selflessness and where sexual relations are properly placed therein. A teenager coping with fluctuating hormonal development and inexperience likely will not. However, the teenager may exhibit tremendous maturity by adhering to the advice of a responsible adult and avoid the risk of unduly complicating their life in a myriad of ways. As you walk through life know always what your path has revealed and what it has not. Be open to the words of those who have tread before and if truth rings clear, act hence on faith.
Govern yourself with honesty, accountability, and maturity; have love in your heart always and you will hear the voice of the Shepherd all around you.
“And Moses went out, and told the people the words of the Lord, and gathered the seventy men of the elders of the people, and set them round about the tabernacle. And the Lord came down in a cloud, and spake unto him, and took of the spirit that was upon him, and gave it unto the seventy elders: and it came to pass, that, when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied, and did not cease.
But there remained two of the men in the camp, the name of the one was Eldad, and the name of the other Medad: and the spirit rested upon them; and they were of them that were written, but went not out unto the tabernacle: and they prophesied in the camp.
And there ran a young man, and told Moses, and said, Eldad and Medad do prophesy in the camp. And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of Moses, one of his young men, answered and said, My lord Moses, forbid them. And Moses said unto him, Enviest thou for my sake? would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them!” -Numbers 11:24-29 (Underlined added)