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Friday, May 8, 2015

The Worst Law Of Heaven

Previously: Any Opposed, Please Sit Down And Shut Up

I suppose in the not-too-distant future, when the Lord has either cleansed the LDS Church of its gross iniquity, or followed up on the promise he made in 3rd Nephi 16:10 to take the fulness of the gospel away from us entirely, we'll look back on the first decades of the 21st century as the point when this thing finally went off the rails.

The days we're living in now are the days prophesied in 2nd Nephi 28, as Church leaders insist the people place the leader's anemic counsel ahead of the teachings of the "dead prophets" in the Bible and Book of Mormon.[1]  "Hearken unto us and hear our precepts" is the way Nephi has them word it. Yet when they teach, Nephi says, "they teach with their learning" (verse 4), by way of scripted speeches read from teleprompters, and not by the power of the Holy Ghost. Never are any of them heard delivering an unmistakable message from God as was common in the days of our founding prophet. Yet they claim to have the identical gifts he had.

"All is vanity," said the preacher.
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[1]. "The living prophet is more vital to us than the standard works" and "The living prophet is more important to us than a dead prophet." (Teachings of the Living Prophets Student Manual, Chapter 2)

Things are really getting out of control lately, as we hear the incessant drumbeat to obey our leaders, who cite the now ubiquitous teaching that "obedience is the first law of heaven" as if A) that phrase was actually a doctrine of the church, and B) it means anything close to what they think it means.

That statement has never appeared in any revelation from God, cannot be found in any of the standard works, and was never taught by Joseph Smith.  Yet somehow that flim-flammery has attained the status of First All-Encompassing Doctrine of the Church -If you don't count the other counterfeit that claims the president of the Church is incapable of leading the church astray. Those twin bamboozlements are practically joined at the hip.

Is Alexander Pope Catholic?
"Obedience is the first law of heaven" is a phrase that first appeared in the LDS lexicon in an 1873 conference talk by then apostle Joseph F. Smith, but the idea wasn't original with him. He cribbed it from Alexander Pope's classic An Essay on Man, wherein is found the line "order is heaven's first law." Pope's work was a well-known affirmation of Christian faith. As the Wikipedia entry describes it,
"Pope presents an idea on his view on the Universe; he says that no matter how imperfect, complex, inscrutable and disturbing the Universe appears to be, it functions in a rational fashion according to the natural laws.
Pope's work would have been familiar to Joseph F.Smith, as it was to most literate persons of the 19th century. "Order is heaven's first law" had, in fact, become a familiar maxim in both England and America throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. The belief was universally embraced by all of Christendom; it was not an idea proprietary to Mormonism.  In a talk Joseph F. Smith gave in 1896, he mentioned Pope's famous axiom and gave it a little tweak of his own:
"It is frequently said that order is the first law of heaven. I wish to put this in a different light...My opinion is that obedience...is the first law of heaven."
 Okay, fine. Obedience=order. Tomato, Tomahto. Doesn't really matter, since obedience to the fixed laws of the universe was what guaranteed order in the heavens. As far as the phrase was understood back then, there was little harm in changing that one word in order to enhance and enlarge its meaning.   Joseph F. Smith understood what the law of heaven was, same as everyone else in his day. That understanding, however, was quite a bit different than the way it is commonly being taught in the church today.  And keep in mind Elder Smith was careful to present this as his opinion; he was not claiming to speak for God as if through revelation.

Nevertheless, there's no reason to take issue with Joseph F's expanded view of the phrase; it is consistent with teachings previously revealed through his uncle, Joseph Smith, Jr.  What is important for us to understand 140 years later is that obedience in that sense is far removed from the kind of obedience we usually have in mind when we think of Church rules we are encouraged to obey, such as "attend all your meetings" or "don't drink coffee."  The law of heaven is not that kind of law. It references an entirely different kind of obedience.

When we are discussing "the law of heaven," we're not in the arena of statutes and ordinances -the type of laws humans must comply with in order to control their behavior.  The law of heaven is best understood in terms of the law of physics, or Newton's law of Universal Gravitation. The word "law" in this usage stands for an established reality regarding the way the universe works.  No human being is capable of either obeying or disobeying the law of heaven. It exists outside our influence.  It just is.

That's why it's called the law of heaven. The law of heaven refers to the laws or processes by which heaven/the universe operates. Everything from the largest planet to the tiniest molecule obeys the law of heaven by fulfilling the role for which it was created.  Here's a succinct description given by A.E. Johns in 1943, after quoting Alexander Pope's famous line, "order is the first law of heaven":
"By 'order' he obviously meant rank, relative position, a condition where everything is arranged so as to play its proper part. And in nature and astronomy there is such ordering. We speak of the various cosmic units. In particular, below us in size there are three: the electron, the atom, and the molecule. Above us, there are also three: the planets, of which our earth is a sample; the star, of which our sun is a sample; and the galaxy, of which our Milky Way is one...All science is based on the assumption that our universe is orderly." 
Today we invite confusion when we mistake the laws of heaven, (which control the operation of the universe) for the commandments of God, which are laws we are capable of choosing to either obey or ignore. God himself is subject to the laws of heaven, [2] although he does have power to manipulate and control those laws when it suits his purposes.
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[2] See for instance D&C 84:13 "...the power by which all things are governed, even the power of God..."

Sadly, when most latter-day Saints hear the word "law," what instantly comes to mind is a rule or regulation they are expected to obey.  But think it through. "Obedience is the first law of heaven" as some sort of commandment we are expected to obey, isn't even possible, as LDS Author Luther Tychonievich points out:
"This is a pretty silly law; it doesn’t even say any­thing at all. If I ini­tially planned to obey, the law does noth­ing. If I ini­tially planned to dis­obey, like­wise it does noth­ing. It is a great way to make dis­obe­di­ence to any law seem more harsh: break absolutely any law and you also break the first law as well. 'You had an unkind thought toward an ene­my? You just broke the First Law of Heav­en!‍' "
Part of the confusion, I think, is the result of thinking that the law of heaven is synonymous with the law of God. But they are not the same.  God's laws consist of commandments we are expected to follow. The law of heaven, on the other hand, has literally nothing to do with any input on our part.  We have no influence on the laws of heaven, nor are we able to "obey" such laws.  We don't obey the law of heaven. We can, however, choose to obey the laws of God because we have agency to do so.

The law of heaven is a cosmic system that governs matter, from the tiniest particle to the mightiest planet, all created to perform their individual functions.  The tiny particles that make up the molecules of a lead brick do not have the agency to transform themselves into gold, or water, or cauliflower. The law of heaven keeps them in their place.  Could the elements suddenly choose to stop obeying the laws of heaven? Yes, but if they did, all would resort back to chaos. Happily they have chosen to remain obedient to the law of heaven, otherwise the universe would fly apart in an instant and man would cease to be.

The famous Reformed Baptist theologian C.H. Spurgeon, a contemporary of Joseph F. Smith, described how order kept everything in the universe operating as it should:
"Look up to the heavens and observe the innumerable stars that glisten there so plenteously that numeration fails. Looked at through the telescope, stars are so abundant that the heavens appear to be covered with dust of gold, and yet we have no record that one of these bodies has ever interfered with the orbit of its fellow sphere; or if such a catastrophe has ever been permitted, it has been part of the all-comprehending scheme. The majestic orbs move, each one in its own orbit, and all in perfect harmony.
"Even the aberrations, as we call them, are nothing but the result of regular law, and the astronomer finds that he can calculate them with the greatest possible accuracy. There are no irregularities, discords, or failures among the constellations! And if to the student of the heavens such should appear to be the case, he has but more fully to master the universal law and he discovers, with astonishment, that every eccentricity is a necessary incident in a system grander than he had thought.

"Mere amateurs in astronomy talked of irregularities, but Newton and Kepler found a mathematical precision manifest in all. At no point need we be afraid that the universe will be thrown out of gear! If a man had placed innumerable wheels in a machine, there would be, in due time, a breakdown somewhere. Oil would be needed here, a cog would be broken there, a band would be snapped in this place, or a piston would be immovable there—but God’s great machine of the universe, whose wheels are so high that the sublime Ezekiel, when he saw them, felt that they were terrible, has continued to revolve these many thousands, perhaps millions of years, and has never yet been stopped for cleaning or repair because God has impressed upon every atom of it the most docile spirit of submission—and His powerful hands are at work every instant amidst the machinery giving force to His laws."
Did Joseph F. Smith understand that this was the proper interpretation of  "the law of heaven"? Of course he did. Our religion teaches that the tiniest particles in the universe all consist of two parts: that which acts, and that which is acted upon. Everything in the universe has a tiny intelligence attached to it, which enables it to "understand" its purpose in the greater scheme, and hold itself in its proper place. The importance of every element in the universe knowing its purpose and being obedient to its role is precisely what Elder Smith meant when he substituted the word "obedience" for "order.":
"Obedience is the first law of heaven. Without it the elements could not be controlled. Without it neither the earth nor those who dwell upon it could be controlled. The angels in heaven would not be controlled without it, and in fact without obedience there could be no union or order, and chaos and confusion would prevail...The elements are obedient to his word. He said, “Let there be light and there was light.” He commanded the land and the waters to be divided, and it was so. When Christ commanded the storm to be still, and the sea to be calm, the elements were obedient to him. The earth, and all the worlds which God has made are obedient to the laws of their creation; for this reason there are peace, harmony, union, increase, power, glory and dominion, which could not exist without obedience." (Journal of Discourses, Volume 16, pg 248) 
The reason "obedience" is referred to as "the first law of heaven" is not because being obedient is the most important law we can obey. It's the first law because it was sequentially the first "law" to come into existence. Without this first law there would be no order in the universe.  There would likely be no universe at all.  Order, or the requirement that the elements be obedient to the order of heaven, was the first law to be established. All other laws of the universe would logically follow after.

Elder Joseph F. Smith was correct in his explanation of the law of heaven, and what that law meant. Unfortunately, he took things a step too far and tried to apply the analogy to people:
"Sisters, do not flatter yourselves that you have nothing to answer for so long as you may have a good husband. You must be obedient."
 Uh-oh. Here it comes.

Shape Up, Sisters!
Joseph F. Smith was suddenly sounding more like a Shaker than a Mormon. By the mid 19th century, the Shaker community was already functioning under an aberrant interpretation of the meaning of the law of heaven, and Joseph F. Smith seemed determined for us to follow in their wake by misapplying it as well:
"Since it was a Shaker precept that 'order is heaven's first law,' it was the accepted responsibility of the sisterhood to keep the household clean and orderly and prepare and serve the meals on time." (Work and Worship Among the Shakers, by Edward Deming Andrews, pg 200)
Don't get me wrong. I have nothing against having women prepare and serve me meals; I'd like to try a system like that in my own home sometime.  It's just that Joseph F. Smith, like the Shakers, was trying to use this lesson about how wonderful it is that the elements "know their place," as a motivation to get other people to change their behavior to suit him.  Elder Smith, like his colleagues in the Quorum and the First Presidency, spent a considerable amount of conference time ragging on the women of the church about being obedient -obedient not to God, mind you, but to their husbands.  This was 1873, when polygamy was in full swing, and it was often a constant struggle for the men to keep the wives in check.

When I was younger, I set out to read all 26 volumes of the Journal of Discourses, thinking it would give me a broad understanding of LDS doctrine.  It didn't, of course, because our doctrine is supposed to come from God, and these guys literally never received any direct communications from the Almighty the way our founding prophet had all the time.  What they often did in general conference was present their own opinions and speculations, and these speeches were published in the Journal of Discourses so that future historians could be bored out of their skulls same as I was. Some of the things they taught were consistent with the scriptures, and some were wildly off base.  What I found surprising in my reading was how often Brigham and his cohorts thought it necessary to chastise the women for being unhappy in their positions.

The women of the church would grumble about their situation, and their husbands would get up in conference and grumble about all the grumbling the women were doing. It looked to me that if this system of plural marriage was to bring peace and joy to these people's lives, it was going to be an uphill climb.  This conference talk of Elder Smith's was just one of many that carried with it a rebuke against the sisters, encouraging them to bite the bullet and keep still about their lot.

For his part, Smith cajoled the menfolk in the congregation into being more obedient, too. But that was the problem. He took what should have been an explanation of how the heavens operated, and tried to extend the metaphor where it didn't fit.  We have been suffering from that misapplication of thought in the church ever since.

Is obedience a trait we should cultivate? Absolutely. I don't know how we expect to gain salvation without being obedient to God. The problem arises when so many of our members choose to obey the precepts of the leaders, and by doing so assuming they are following God.  It's this "obey the leaders" mentality that results in good people believing God cares how many holes they have in their ears.

No Wonder They Call Us A Cult
After a particular appearance where President Hinckley wondered aloud why any woman would want go go around with two earrings in each earlobe instead of just one, a whole slew of our young women began assiduously obeying "the one earring rule" as though it were a commandment handed down from Mount Sinai. So powerful is the mantra "obedience is the first law of heaven," that thousands of women rushed to be obedient to a commandment God never uttered. "If the prophet asks you to do something and I can do it 100 percent," declared a chipper young BYU coed sporting only one ring in each earlobe, "then I'm happy."

Well, good for her. Except the prophet never asked her to do any such thing, and even if he had, it would not have been a commandment unless God had told Hinckley to announce it as one.  This Church is fast becoming a Cult of Obedience, even over matters that have nothing to do with God's will.

Perhaps I should say especially over matters that have nothing to do with God's will.

Recently the president of the Fresno California Mission announced a new policy for his missionaries demanding "Exact Obedience." Exact obedience to what? Why, obedience to the rules the president himself laid down, of course. Among the demands he is making of the missionaries under his charge, you'd be hard-pressed to find anything that resembles an instruction from the Lord. What the missionaries are being asked to obey are standard sales practices: the more people you pitch your product to, the better your chances that one out of ten will result in a sale.

And that's all this strategy is. The president has set a goal for his missionaries to make 100 sales a month.  Oh, excuse me, did I say "sales"? I meant baptisms. But he is marketing these baptisms as the product these missionaries are expected to hit the streets and sell.  This is the sad result of the corporate thinking that has overtaken our Church: the greater the number of potential customers you're able to reach, the greater the chance you'll be rewarded with a bite on your line.

I previously addressed this unfortunate propensity we have of equating baptisms with collecting converts to the church.  The goal of every missionary should be to help others come to Christ. What they shouldn't be doing is hustling people into joining our club.

This mission president's celebration of obedience is so over the top that when I first read it I thought it was satire. In fact, when the proprietor of Nearing Kolob reported on it, he titled his piece "Is This Satire? Nope, This Mission President's Blog is Real."

Our out-of-control culture of obedience results in all kinds of corruption of the gospel of Christ, as typified by an astonishingly misguided children's book that one reviewer aptly labeled Satan's Plan 2.0.

And let's not forget that when we wallow in the belief that obedience in the church is paramount over everything else, we often end up expelling from our society those who are not seen as 100% loyal to the leaders. Four weeks ago blogger Adrian Larsen compiled a shocking list of church members who had been harshly disciplined by their bishops and stake presidents in only the past six months because they failed to kiss the ring of authority when instructed to. "Those who follow Christ most rigorously," writes Adrian, "are often the ones most targeted for 'discipline,' which almost always consists of an ultimatum to either stop following Christ, or be thrown out of the LDS church."

Darn Right The Church Can Be Led Astray
Aside from the reality that the way strict obedience is taught in the church today is flat-out wrong, this false teaching is accomplishing what we were told could never be done: it's leading the church astray.  Bruce McConkie insisted that the teaching that states "obedience is the first law of heaven" is "the cornerstone upon which all righteousness and progression rest."

That would be a pretty heavy notion if it were true.  Recently, in an essay titled "Why Obedience is NOT the First Law of Heaven," the proprietor of  The Perfect Day blog presented four reasons why McConkie's declaration is problematic:
1." I've known plenty of people who were flawlessly obedient -attending all church meetings, paying full tithes/fast offerings, 100% home/visiting teaching, working in the cannery, going to the temple every week, doing family history -you name it. Yet they avoided associating with people they didn't like.  They prided themselves on not "giving to those deceitful beggars" (a direct quote) just outside the Walmart parking lot.  A few were verbally abusive to their spouses and/or kids.  Wearing the finest clothes, driving the finest cars, and living in the finest house was of paramount importance.

2.  "If you tried to count how many commandments we are expected to obey -including instructions to grow a garden, visit the sick, do your family history, learn the signs of the times as well as all the written commandments -you'd find thousands.  And what do you think the chances are that you'll obey them all? Zero, right? There are just too many "commandments" to keep them all perfectly. With that being the case, then technically none of us should make it into heaven.

3.  "Obedience" itself is never declared a "law." The Ten Commandments? The Law of Moses? Now those are laws! But obedience, as I understand it, denotes a voluntary compliance to laws. (See D&C 130:21)
4.  "Logically, even if obedience were a law, it would be impossible for it to be the first law of heaven.  After all, unless another law existed first, there would be nothing for obedient souls to obey.
Jesus long ago taught us the true first law of heaven. There are two of them, in fact. If you can't remember what they are, why not read the rest of that post on The Perfect Day? This is the best, most thorough examination of the topic I've ever seen, so if you have any interest at all in jettisoning false teachings from your life and replacing those false notions with truth, I promise you it will be well worth your time. Here it is again:

Why Obedience is NOT the First Law of Heaven

Getting It Right
With so much rampant falsehoods now circulating in the church, how can we know whether we are following a true teaching or a false one? Harold B. Lee gave us the key back in 1964:
“It is not to be thought that every word spoken by the General Authorities is inspired, or that they are moved upon by the Holy Ghost in everything they write. I don't care what his position is, if he writes something or speaks something that goes beyond anything that you can find in the standard church works.”
If we expect to be worthy to face our Lord at the judgement bar, we latter-day Saints deserve to shrug off the unbelief and falsehoods that have kept us devoting ourselves to the mundane while ignoring our true purpose. We can begin by resolving to obey the first two commandments of God, and diligently questioning any supposed "doctrines" that come from any source other than Him.

1. I've known plenty of people who were flawlessly obedient -- attending all church meetings, paying full tithes/fast offerings, 100% home/visiting teaching, working in the cannery, going to the temple every week, doing family history -- you name it. Yet they avoided associating with people they didn't like. They prided themselves on not "giving in to those deceitful beggars" (a direct quote) just outside the Walmart parking lot. A few were verbally abusive to their spouses and/or kids. Wearing the finest clothes, driving the finest cars and living in the finest house was of paramount importance.
- See more at: http://ldsperfectday.blogspot.com/#sthash.2SbEFuAl.dpuf
"the first law of heaven, the cornerstone upon which all righteousness and progression rest" is problematic:
- See more at: http://ldsperfectday.blogspot.com/#sthash.2SbEFuAl.dpuf
"the first law of heaven, the cornerstone upon which all righteousness and progression rest" is problematic:
- See more at: http://ldsperfectday.blogspot.com/#sthash.2SbEFuAl.dpuf

Update May 8th, 2015:
Readers may find this blog of interest:
The Hazards of Obedience


Important Announcement:
I've been losing the battle against spam getting through on the comment forums here (how many testimonies to the effectiveness of spellcasting African witch doctors must I be forced to delete?) So I'm forced to eliminate the ability for readers to post comments under the "Anonymous" and "Name/URL" options.  There are still plenty of options for posting comments, either by registering with a Google name, or selecting one of several options provided under the Open ID drop-down box.  I hate forcing readers to take that extra step in order to post a comment, but limiting the number of options appears to be the only way to keep the riff-raff from sneaking in. Thankfully, once you register a username for the first time, you won't have to do it again.

My opinion is that obedience, which one of the ancient prophets said was "better than sacrifice," is the first law of heaven - See more at: http://ldsperfectday.blogspot.com/#sthash.lWFmWK2q.dpuf
It is frequently said that order is the first law of heaven. - See more at: http://ldsperfectday.blogspot.com/#sthash.lWFmWK2q.dpuf
"It is frequently said that order is the first law of heaven. I wish to put this in a different light. Order in the Church is the result of obedience to the laws of God and to the discipline which He has established among men. My opinion is that obedience, which one of the ancient prophets said was "better than sacrifice," is the first law of heaven - See more at: http://ldsperfectday.blogspot.com/#sthash.lWFmWK2q.dpuf
"It is frequently said that order is the first law of heaven. I wish to put this in a different light. Order in the Church is the result of obedience to the laws of God and to the discipline which He has established among men. My opinion is that obedience, which one of the ancient prophets said was "better than sacrifice," is the first law of heaven - See more at: http://ldsperfectday.blogspot.com/#sthash.lWFmWK2q.dpuf
"It is frequently said that order is the first law of heaven. I wish to put this in a different light. Order in the Church is the result of obedience to the laws of God and to the discipline which He has established among men. My opinion is that obedience, which one of the ancient prophets said was "better than sacrifice," is the first law of heaven - See more at: http://ldsperfectday.blogspot.com/#sthash.lWFmWK2q.dpuf
"It is frequently said that order is the first law of heaven. I wish to put this in a different light. Order in the Church is the result of obedience to the laws of God and to the discipline which He has established among men. My opinion is that obedience, which one of the ancient prophets said was "better than sacrifice," is the first law of heaven - See more at: http://ldsperfectday.blogspot.com/#sthash.lWFmWK2q.dpuf
"It is frequently said that order is the first law of heaven. I wish to put this in a different light. Order in the Church is the result of obedience to the laws of God and to the discipline which He has established among men. My opinion is that obedience, which one of the ancient prophets said was "better than sacrifice," is the first law of heaven - See more at: http://ldsperfectday.blogspot.com/#sthash.lWFmWK2q.dpuf
"It is frequently said that order is the first law of heaven. I wish to put this in a different light. Order in the Church is the result of obedience to the laws of God and to the discipline which He has established among men. My opinion is that obedience, which one of the ancient prophets said was "better than sacrifice," is the first law of heaven - See more at: http://ldsperfectday.blogspot.com/#sthash.lWFmWK2q.dpuf
"It is frequently said that order is the first law of heaven. I wish to put this in a different light. Order in the Church is the result of obedience to the laws of God and to the discipline which He has established among men. My opinion is that obedience, which one of the ancient prophets said was "better than sacrifice," is the first law of heaven - See more at: http://ldsperfectday.blogspot.com/#sthash.lWFmWK2q.dpuf
"It is frequently said that order is the first law of heaven. I wish to put this in a different light. Order in the Church is the result of obedience to the laws of God and to the discipline which He has established among men. My opinion is that obedience, which one of the ancient prophets said was "better than sacrifice," is the first law of heaven - See more at: http://ldsperfectday.blogspot.com/#sthash.lWFmWK2q.dpuf