The Linear Morality Fallacy

In the 21st century, our technology is more advanced than it has ever been before. Humanity continually refines, builds upon, and improves what we’ve already developed. Despite the occasional regression in advancement, technology is on a constant, upward trajectory of sophistication. This pattern is recognized by everyone and is an inherent part of our ability to create. However, as the world drifts further to secularism and materialism, people try to apply this model to everything. This is the linear morality fallacy.

A common refrain heard today is “the right side of history.” Being against any number of issues will get you charged with being against this right side of history. Leaving aside all the other problems with this, it rests on an assumption that, just like technology, morality is only ever improving and being more refined. People will point to the elimination of slavery, equality for women, and push for homosexual acceptance as evidence of this. Working backwards, they assume that history gets more and more morally backwards the further away you get from today. Even Church members fall into this way of thinking. However, this view of morality couldn’t be further from the truth.

Look at slavery in America. The popular view is that the further one goes back in time, the more hateful and racist people were towards blacks. As time advanced, people in the North became more aware of racial injustice until a war happened and slavery ended. Eventually, even the South became more open to racial equality, leaving behind their prejudiced history. As widespread as this view is though, it’s also wrong.

Researching the history of slavery, one quickly realizes the Founding Fathers thought slavery was a kind of necessary evil that would soon die out. They didn’t think the black man was supposed to be the eternal servant of white people, but that was just how it was now and would end soon enough. However, as decades passed, people began to get a different idea. They began to believe that it really was the purpose of blacks to serve whites. This was a complete reversal from before, a regression in moral thinking. The cultural thinking had gone from temporary evil that would be rectified to an inherent good. Slavery was no longer unjust. It was nature.

This moral regression led to the bloodiest war in US history before slavery was abolished. If people had instead held onto the moral truth that slavery should die out, it could have peacefully, but temptation and evil warped the thinking of many until good was called evil and evil good. And so, morality had not constantly improved but had slipped down until a calamity resulted, which then humbled the people until they accepted moral truth.

Church members know this from the Scriptures. Commonly called the Pride Cycle or Nephite Cycle, people would be blessed, become more wicked, be punished, repent, be blessed, and then it would repeat on and on until their ultimate destruction. Moral progression is shown to be a loop that cultures follow. Yet some members still hold on to this linear morality fallacy. They believe that any new cultural development must be good and that cultural regression is impossible. So they embrace many things contrary to the Gospel and teachings of Christ, arguing that this is simply how society is supposed to evolve. It is the “right side of history.”

History loops and cycles through it’s moral highs and lows. We cannot look to the fads and trends of the world to tell us what is ultimately right and best for us. Only Jesus Christ and His gospel can tell us that. Church members especially would do well to focus on developing their faith and studying the gospel in order to know what is morally right, instead of taking cues from the ever-changing and regressing world. There is no right side of history, but there is the right side of the Lord, and we would do well to be on it.

It’s Not a Valid Interpretation. You’re Just Wrong

What if I told you that the Communist Manifesto is actually an argument for capitalism and private property? Or that the Odyssey is really about horticulture? Or the Harry Potter series is not about magic but about a mental institution and its patients? You’d probably say I was an idiot or a tenured professor. There’s so much evidence pointing against these interpretations of what the stories are really about. The authors couldn’t possibly have had those ideas in mind when writing, so there’s no way those interpretations can be correct.

But what if we just kill the authors’ intentions? We figuratively dismiss the authors from their own works and apply whatever interpretation we want to the story with no one to tell us we’re wrong. Many literary critics, amateur or otherwise, do just that with the death of the author. No longer is the author’s identity regarded nor are the circumstances concerning the creation of the story a concern. The text is completely separated from “limits” and “interpretive tyranny.” Now the true meaning of the text doesn’t matter because there is none. The meaning changes for every person and every time the work is read. So it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks about it. All that matters is what you think.

Perhaps you can see the problem with this, but let’s use a real life example to illustrate it. In Acts 16: 31, Paul and Silas say “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” Does this mean if we say we believe in Christ we are saved forever? Does it say we need to believe Christ and obey commandments to go to Heaven? Is it correct that all who don’t say they believe in Christ will be sent to Hell forever? Are works not important, only belief? According to death of the author, any of these are true if you want them to be. However, it is impossible for these to all be true at the same time, and with salvation on the line you can’t afford to guess wrong. So you choose one you think is best and group together with people who agree and maybe form a church especially because another group with a different interpretation formed a church and they are condemning people to Hell with their false teachings so you need to show people how your interpretation is right and…then we end up with today’s hundreds of Christian denominations. Instead of freedom, we have confusion. Instead of no limits, we have no guidance.

Maybe doctrine is special though. Let’s choose a simple story like a man helping a poor soul who has been robbed and left for dead on the side of the road even though they are from groups hostile to each other. Does this story mean we should have open borders for all countries? Or maybe that racism is bad? How about that the Jews were and are racist? The story of the Good Samaritan is world famous and has thousands of interpretations. Which one did Jesus mean? It must certainly matter when people are using it as a basis for government policy.

With all these “valid” interpretations comes endless confusion and contention. So what’s right? A powerful truth is found in the Bible Dictionary for parables which helps clear the fog. It states, “It is important to distinguish between the interpretation of a parable and the application of a parable. The only true interpretation is the meaning the parable conveyed, or was meant to convey, when first spoken. The application of a parable may vary in every age and circumstance.” Here we have the crux of the matter. People have confused application for interpretation.

We can apply not just parables but all stories and principles in endless ways. Maybe the bravery of Abinadi inspires you to never back down from sharing your testimony. Perhaps the damage done to innocent lives by the Count of Monte Cristo stays your hand when you consider getting revenge. These applications come from a correct interpretation of the story though. Abinadi was brave. Revenge is wrong. Flawed interpretations will lead to flawed applications.

So how do we know the correct interpretation? This leads to the hardest question and the seduction of death of the author. Sometimes the author’s meaning is clear, other times it isn’t, and still other times it has layers of meaning. Sussing out what is correct is no mean feat. Death of the author offers an easy way out. Just say it doesn’t matter and it can mean whatever you want. However, an incorrect interpretation by definition will either ignore some things, force meanings, or put ideas together in an unwieldy manner. It can never offer full satisfaction.

The true interpretation can be found though. Again, the Bible Dictionary about parables offers advice. Among other things, it says it’s critical to consider the context and setting. For a parable, this would be who the Lord is talking to and the circumstances of the time as well as the idea it sprang from. A story is a bit different but follows from this. The author’s history and social context must be considered, evidence must be found within the text, and any author commentary can help. Occasionally, the author will just flat out say what the correct interpretation is, but it’s not always that easy. An important thing to keep in mind as well is that with many more recent stories, the author never had an interpretation in mind, wanting instead to have the audience dream up whatever they want. This can easily be boiled down to the correct interpretation being that there is none and it’s meaningless.

Thus, for every story or text, there is a correct interpretation and incorrect ones. It is our responsibility as the audience to find what that interpretation is and then apply it how we want. If we find we are holding on to an incorrect view, we should change when presented with evidence. It is the height of folly to dismiss evidence in the text or especially what an author directly states, and cling to erroneous interpretations. If someone states his interpretation is correct, then it is reasonable to ask him to prove it. Discussion should be centered around finding evidence and putting it together to get at what the author truly meant. Remember that the correct interpretation doesn’t limit us. It guides us to countless applications. Whether it is trying to understand the nature of God or simply finding what motivates a character, we can be safe in the knowledge that a correct interpretation exists for us to find.

A Wise Steward

Who is wiser? The man who receives money, invests it, and reaps more reward, or the man who receives money and buries it away or spends it? We don’t need to wonder, because Christ answered this in his famous parable about talents. When the Lord blesses us with something, be it money, abilities, or opportunities, He expects us to do our best and make the most of it. If we do, the Lord is pleased with us and will continue to bless us. For others, they can know that such a person is an industrious and wise steward.

This is comforting knowledge because recent news (from a self-designated leaker site no less) shows that the Church is using money it gets from its business interests to invest back into the stock market and reap the huge gains that have occurred there. The site put the possible money held now at $32 billion in 13 LLC companies, but this comes with several assumptions such as the Church owning 100% of every company. Even if you don’t think that to be the case, it still shows the Church is investing and growing its money wisely, and has a large nest egg to boot.

So why does the Church need that money? Besides churches and temples, the Church also has many employees that help everything run smoothly. Only a select number of people actually know how many people are employed, but it is well known that the Church pays well and looks out for its employees. This is in addition to all the money needed for the many activities and materials the Church creates to further the Lord’s work. The Lord expects us to do what we can and put in all our efforts to further His work and that includes having the money to do it.

Further comfort can be found in the fact that the Church is not pressed for money. Organizations, just like people, can be bullied and coerced when they need funds. The Church can maintain its independence and fend off any insidious attacks that require capital to resolve whether they be defending against groundless lawsuits, standing up to hostile campaigns, or countering false information. Just like Captain Moroni had the Nephites prepare themselves against attack, the Church must be ready too.

This information, though understandably wanted to be kept private by the Church, should earn the respect of everyone for the Church. Just as Christ counseled, the Church is being a wise steward with what has been entrusted by the Lord. Members hearts can be at ease about the Church’s financial situation.

“It’s None of My Business”

Any word about the moral rot and perversion of today is quickly met by, “Why do you care? They can do whatever they want in the privacy of their own homes and it won’t affect you. It’s none of your business.” This is meant to shut you up rather than address the problems, but it shows two important underlying assumptions: you should only care about someone if it directly affects you, and what people do by themselves doesn’t affect you.

While this may seem “current year”, it’s actually one of the oldest arguments out there. Cain’s first instinct when called out by the Lord for his sins is to say, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” or to update it “Why should I care about someone else, even my brother?”

People are defensive. They don’t want to deal with others and especially don’t want their sins getting called out. Cain wouldn’t be out of place in a Twitter thread ranting against legislating morality. But does the Lord want us to do that? Not give a toss if someone is destroying himself? You already know the answer.

Prophets are constantly recorded warning people about sin and imploring them to turn to God. Regular members as well are commanded to warn others about sin and invite them to follow Christ. This is contrary to modern sensibilities which is to turn a blind eye to the sins of someone you aren’t responsible for (and sometimes even if you are). As church members, we know we are all brothers and sisters. Shouldn’t we be looking out for our family?

When we see people advocating for causes that go against the Lord’s way, we need to notice it and call them out on it. They may tell you to sod off, but it may also get them to think and change. Being yelled at a bit is worth it if you can help someone get on the straight and narrow.

“But what about the other part?” you may ask. “The part about it not affecting us?” Well, that’s never been true and never will be true. The Book of Mormon is full of subgroups in societies turning away from Christ and the ruin that brings to not only them, but to all people in their society. The Order of Nehors introduced priestcraft to Nephite society, and it led to civil war and oppression. After Christ’s visit, peace and unity reigned throughout the land, but after a few generations, rebels and doubters led to the sorrow of many and eventual genocide of the entire Nephite people.

Prophets are not called to only preach to people who come to General Conference. They preach to societies, nations, and peoples. This of course includes people in the Church, but it also includes all people for we are all sons and daughters of God. Sin brings misery and suffering, whether from getting addicted to heroin or ruining one’s body through mutilation.

This is why the Lord has His prophets sound the trump of warning, and why He expects all of us to fight. Ceding the culture to those who would encourage sin isn’t being respectful. It’s slapping the Lord in the face and inviting the destruction of everyone.

Our duty as members is to share with everyone what we know is right and stand firm about gospel principles. We do this because we love them but also because the culture we live in affects everyone. The Lord expects strong men and women to stand firm against the tide of lies, hate, and bitterness rising everywhere. Let’s not disappoint Him.