Satan’s Rebellion and Agency

I want to draw attention to a fantastic article in this month’s Ensign called Satan’s Rebellion. The author discusses a tendency that he noted among some members of the Church to equate rules and consequences for disobedience with Satan’s plan. As the author notes, this is based on an unfortunately common misperception about the role of Satan in the Divine Council and human agency.

The author discusses some of the negative consequences of this misperception: parents feeling that they are coercive when they encourage their children to attend church, a rejection of the need to make sacred covenants, and support for “the legalization of serious moral sin.”

It seems to me that this error is a natural outgrowth of the Church’s focus on freedom during the Cold War. Soviet Russia stood for the proposition that Government needed to regulate every facet of life in a top down fashion. This government domination was deeply inconsistent with the plan of salvation and the importance for individuals to work out their own salvation.

Yet, the Gospel tends to avoid extremes of all sorts. Just as a society where the state regulates everything is part of Satan’s plan, so to is anarchy and the absence of government. The Book of Mormon makes clear that Satan is just as content with a society that has collapsed into anarchy (such as that pictured in 3 Nephi before the coming of the savior) as he is with one that is controlled by a dictator or tyrant (e.g. King Noah).

The rejection of Satan’s plan in the pre-mortal council should cause us to be cautious about either extreme. The Article quotes J. Reuben Clark who noted that Satan’s plan could have taken one of two forms: “Either the compulsion of … man, or else saving men in sin.” Either extreme would have been contrary to the laws of heaven. Satan’s second lie is echoed in his injunction to eat, drink, and be marry and in an extreme form of libertarianism which rejects any need for moral or social restraints. But “[h]onoring agency does not mean embracing anarchy.”

As I have read the words of the Founding Fathers, I am struck by their wisdom in realizing that the functioning of democracy requires a just and a moral society. Respect for the rights of others, respect for the rule of law and other hallmarks of a democracy require a citizenry with shared values and principles. They understood that “establishing righteous laws in society are all practices approved of the Lord and not part of ‘Satan’s plan.'”

This is why the Church has and will continue to call for legislation that can be seen as ‘legislating morality.’ For instance, the Church has repeatedly urged members to fight for legislation to limit the spread of pornography. In Utah, the Church has opposed making it easier to buy alcohol. And of course, the Church’s infamous involvement in Proposition 8 is exemplary.

In light of this, it seems to me that the urge to deregulate and to go to the libertarian extreme on social and legal matters is unwise. This has at times been very difficult for me to accept. I consider myself for instance pretty close to a free speech absolutist and so it has been interesting for me to attempt to reconcile that with the Church’s open call for members to fight against pornography.

Yet, it has become clear to me that God is displeased if we simply let society further decay into a libertarian and libertine pleasure paradise. As Saints and members of his Church, we must be a light unto the world and that involves fighting for legislation and doing our best to shape society according to Gospel principles. We cannot and should not give up the fight or abdicate this arena.

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