Surely it's that simple...???
Surely it’s that simple…???

I have often heard at Church people quote the following scripture:

20 There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—

21 And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated (D&C 130).

The subsequent discussion often takes on the following logic:

  1. There are laws in heaven
  2. Blessings are associated with those laws
  3. Obedience to the law releases the blessing

My own opinion is that this logic is flawed and is not what the scripture says. I would suggest the logic should go something like this:

  1. There are laws in heaven
  2. Blessings are associated with those laws
  3. If you receive a blessing (and you may not), it will be because you were obedient.

It is a small difference; however it produces a far different perspective on WHY we do things. The key to me is the phrase, “and when we obtain a blessing from God”. If the first logic was right the scripture might say, “And when we are obedient, we obtain a blessing from God”.

My undergraduate Psychology studies taught me a great many things. One of my favourite was Kohlburg’s stages of moral development. He postulated that there are six stages of moral development that go from basic morals of right and wrong to moral reasoning based upon universal principles. One of the moral dilemmas used by Kohlburg in his research was the following:

A woman was near death from a special kind of cancer. There was one drug that the doctors thought might save her. It was a form of radium that a druggist in the same town had recently discovered. The drug was expensive to make, but the druggist was charging ten times what the drug cost him to produce. He paid $200 for the radium and charged $2,000 for a small dose of the drug. The sick woman’s husband, Heinz, went to everyone he knew to borrow the money, but he could only get together about $ 1,000, which is half of what it cost. He told the druggist that his wife was dying and asked him to sell it cheaper or let him pay later. But the druggist said, “No, I discovered the drug and I’m going to make money from it.” So Heinz got desperate and broke into the man’s store to steal the drug for his wife.

Should Heinz have broken into the laboratory to steal the drug for his wife? Why or why not?

It’s important to keep things simple…
It’s important to keep things simple…

Many who haven’t studied Psychology have heard of this dilemma and most can imagine the range of moral issues this raises.

One of the criticisms of his theory is the focus that the stages have on the principle of justice – which is not always the guiding principle of behaviour. Nevertheless, I believe they provide a good (however broad) framework to reflect on our behaviours and why we do things. My feeling is that most people get stuck at stage two and perhaps occasionally try out stage three.

I have listed below some possible responses to each of Kohlburg’s stages relative to attending church and paying tithing (they are not perfect, I know, but they are close).

Stage 1. Obedience and punishment orientation. 

I go to church because I will go to hell if I don’t.

I pay tithing so I don’t get burnt

Stage 2. Self interest orientation

I go to church because I get blessings.

I pay tithing because the windows of heaven will be open for me.

 Stage 3. Interpersonal accord and conformity. 

I go to church because good people do.

We all pay tithing in the church. Its what we all do

Stage 4. Authority and social-order maintaining orientation

I go to church so that our society can function with good people having good values.

I pay tithing to allow the church to help people.

Stage 5. Social contract orientation

I go to church, and I believe in others going to different churches, or none at all, because it represents what is best for our society. Each person holding differing values, and having respect for one another, contributes to all in society.

Each person pays tithing in different ways and for different reasons. That’s OK.

Stage 6. Universal ethical principles

I go to church because it is absolutely the right thing to do today. Next week it may not be as there may be something else that is fundamentally more important to God than going to church…

I’ll pay tithing, but not when billions are spent on a shopping centre.

Applied to aspects of the gospel, Kohlburgs theory raises some interesting questions.

Why are we obedient?

Do we go through Kohlburg’s stages relative to varying aspects of the gospel?

Are we at different levels of development on different commandments?

Is there a benefit in not operating at the highest level in relation to obedience?

***Extra bonus challenge*** Write your own responses to each stage on a commandment of your choice.