Q: How do you get to the Celestial Kingdom?

A: Praxis, praxis, praxis.

More than any other religion I can think of, Mormonism is characterized by the stuff we do, day in, day out. Some of these activities are cultural markers and shibboleths; others seem more oriented around generating habits of worship. I wanted to make a list of the ‘small stuff’, those daily (or regular) tasks we engage in that aren’t mandatory aspects of being LDS but are nonetheless strongly encouraged. Here’s a sample list:

  • Daily scripture study
  • Daily personal prayer
  • Regular temple attendance
  • Weekly church attendance [1]
  • Attending Stake Conference
  • Watching General Conference [2]
  • Subscription to LDS magazines
  • Family Home Evening
  • Seminary
  • Temple images in the home
  • Becoming a Teacher/Priest/Elder/High Priest/Whatever’s next
  • Paying Fast Offerings
  • I’d be curious to see what else you guys would add to this list, but the actual content of this list of regular activities isn’t what I’d like to talk about primarily; rather, I’d like to explore what the existence of this list means for LDS and how LDS folk use this list as part of our culture. I characterize these items as non-mandatory; by this I mean while they may have a salutary effect, they are not salvific in and of themselves and are not, to use a well-worn phrase, “necessary for our salvation.” I’ve consciously left some of the more praxis-oriented temple recommend elements off this list to avoid needless debate [3] around those. Here’s a famous example, retold last year by an area authority, of how we sometimes explicitly use this list:

    Some years ago Harold B. Lee served as the President of the Pioneer Stake. One evening he found it necessary to hold a disciplinary council for a man who had violated the laws of chastity. The disciplinary council lasted late into the night and finally the decision was made to excommunicate the man. The next morning as President Lee went to his office he was confronted by the man’s brother. The man said: “I want to tell you that my brother wasn’t guilty of what you charge him with.” President Lee replied, “How do you know he wasn’t guilty?” The answer came, “Because I prayed, and the Lord told me he was innocent.” President Lee then invited the man into his office.

    “How old are you?” asked President Lee.
    “Forty-seven” came the response.
    “What Priesthood do you hold?”
    “A teacher, I think.”
    “Do you live the Word of Wisdom?”
    “Well, no.”
    “Do you pay your tithing?”
    “Do you attend church regularly?”
    “No,” and he didn’t intend to as long as the current bishop was serving.
    “Do you read the scriptures regularly?”
    He said his eyes were bad so he didn’t read much.

    President Lee then told the man that he had a wonderful instrument in his home called a radio. It could broadcast music and talks from thousands of miles away and bring them into his living room just as though the performers were there. The sounds were received by crystal tubes. If one of them wore out he might hear some static. If another wore out the sound might fade in and out, and if another tube went bad the sound might discontinue altogether.

    Then he said our spirit is like that radio set. We have what you might call a Word of Wisdom tube, and read the scriptures tube, and perhaps most importantly a morality tube. And if any of these are not functioning it adversely affects our ability to receive and recognize impressions from the other side.

    Then he said in essence, “Last night 15 of the best men in Pioneer Stake all received the same impression that your brother should be excommunicated. And you, who have some of these spiritual tubes malfunctioning, received a different impression. How would you explain that?” Then he said that the man gave a classic answer, “I think I must have gotten my answer from the wrong source.”

    If our worthiness tubes are in order we will receive and recognise promptings as they are broadcast from the divine source; if not it will be difficult, if not impossible, to recognise the divine signals that are being sent.

    You see, it’s a series of tubes!

    In the example given by President Lee, a failure to engage in these everyday duties of membership results in “spiritual tubes malfunctioning.” President Lee essentially uses the list as a weapon tool to establish the primacy of the high council’s revelation over the brother’s. This is an interesting use of the list, as presumably President Lee could have drawn from a host of different arguments to reaffirm the high council’s decision, from simple administrative hierarchy to a better understanding of facts to the individual’s personal responsibility to submit to the decisions of priesthood leaders. But aside from that effect, Lee’s doctrinal point — that failure to perform some of these tasks tarnishes our ability to receive revelation — is interesting. If we can accept that some or all of those list items are not necessary for being saved, then we are saying that being saved is not a sufficient condition for receiving correct revelation. Per President Lee, you must also be regularly reading the scriptures, attending Church, etc. for that to occur.

    President Lee’s story has been applied and misapplied many times since it was first delivered [4]. The doctrinal point seems to be largely secondary, and instead the primacy arguments are the most-used subtext — the story is about why my revelation is better than yours. We now can also apply it beyond the rare circumstance of direct revelation vs. direct revelation. For example, why should I listen to your complaints about the role of women in the Church when you don’t even attend Sacrament Meeting? Your arguments about the treatment of homosexuals in our culture are invalid — you’re 47 years old and only a teacher. We use the list as a tool for cultural demarcation, but more importantly (and pointedly) we use the cultural demarcation in turn as a substitute for accepting the arguments of others. If you are one of us and do as we do, we will listen to what you have to say. But if you never attended Seminary and you don’t show up to Ward Talent Night…

    I don’t think Mormons are the sole group to use shibboleths. But we are a peculiar people to say the least, and a highly insular group, so these markers and tasks take on life within Mormonism and threaten to supplant our primary directives to treat each other with Christian love and charity. What if, instead of using it as a sign that we may disregard the speaker, we used that list of everyday to-dos as a sign for when we must pay particular attention to what the person is saying? What if we threw the list out the window and just decided to keep it simple, stupid?

    There are other points worth exploring here: when did this list get formed? How does the list get added to or taken away from? How would this list have looked in 1843? 1943? But I am a slacker and a poor historian, so this is what you get for today.

    [1] This one might be mandatory – the Church is commanded to meet and pray together oft. Debatable as to whether this means the 3-hour block each week.

    [2] Extra points if you watch Saturday.

    [3] Suffice it to say as an example out of personal opinion, I think you can be probably be saved and exalted if you violate the Word of Wisdom. I’d be honored to befriend the man whose sole sin was drinking a beer now and then.

    [4] Ask me how I know this.


  1. How’d you know that?

    I think some of this is about establishing one’s bona fides or insider status, or paying one’s dues.

    I once heard a SM talk in which the speaker formulated a list like this, but included “scrapbooking.” I was able to stifle my surprised guffaw.

  2. Ben, none of your business.

    So are you saying it’s OK for us to require people to establish their bona fides or insider status? Should we require our fellow saints to show us fellow sinners that they’ve paid their dues?

  3. I imagine that President Monson would say something about the necessity of visiting the widow and the orphan or something as the great litmus test.

  4. Steve Evans says:

    J., I imagine he would. But clearly there is something else going on here, because if the entire church leadership thought this way then I’d be totally full of crap here.

    er, wait…

  5. Kevin Barney says:

    This reminds me of how Mormons were annoyed that the PBS special The Mormons identified speakers only by name, not by perspecitve. Without an explicit label from which they could easily discern who leaned pro and who the other way, they didn’t have the capacity to make those judgments on their own. (Lots of people thought Kathleen Flake was an anti, for instance.)

  6. Important things I took away from the lectures on faith mingled with scripture…
    What constitutes a saved being? Christ, Heavenly Father or one like them.
    Are we like them? No.
    How can we be one with Christ and in essence become like him, ie saved? Atonement.
    What are the fruits of being saved? Doing that list faithfully, but for the right reasons and not in and of itself. You certainly should not use that list as a checkbox of things you must do. But rather those things spring forth out of your desire to become more like Christ (as much as you are able to in your sphere) which comes through the power of his atoning sacrifice he draws you nearer and nearer to him.

    But really the stick we will be measured by is plainly given in the parable of the sheep and the goats.

  7. Mommie Dearest says:

    Can I put ‘come unto Christ’ at the top? If a list helps in your effort to follow Christ, then it’s benign and a useful organizational tool. If completing the list is your goal, well, good luck with that.

  8. Yeah, I think you’re right about [1] being mandatory, but not only that – you have to go to a specific ward. I was once told that I would be denied my temple recommend if I chose to attend a ward outside my boundaries (it was a ward with ex-pats and I wanted my kids to have the experience of going to primary for the first time with other native English-speaking kids); so consider that — no TR! That seems fairly serious.

    How does this list get added to? I think it must be the trickle down theory — GAs in Utah have a tradition or recommendation and it sort of trickles down to the masses, gathering up importance like tributaries to a great shibbolethic river.

  9. Steve Evans says:

    Mommie Dearest, I daresay you’ve missed my point.

  10. Steve Evans says:

    meems, I guess it’s an interesting question to ask whether Mormons believe that people can be saved if they can’t pass an TR interview.

  11. Mommie Dearest says:

    I have always sucked at following a list.

  12. Steve,

    For example, why should I listen to your complaints about the role of women in the Church when you don’t even attend Sacrament Meeting? Your arguments about the treatment of homosexuals in our culture are invalid — you’re 47 years old and only a teacher. We use the list as a tool for cultural demarcation, but more importantly (and pointedly) we use the cultural demarcation in turn as a substitute for accepting the arguments of others.

    Excellent point. I have nothing else to say except that I see this barrier breaking down and people aren’t judged as seriously over such minor aspects of our faith. But then again, I’m over in New York, and not in the Utah Zone. A lot of these barriers, I think, are more prevalent out west.

  13. Honestly, I think that story by Lee comes off as one of the most arrogant stories in church history. Perhaps it was delivered in a different tone than I read it, or hear it read by others, but when I hear/read it I get the shivers.

    I think that list is what I would call “fruits of the spirit” not to be confused with “prerequisites for receiving the spirit”. I think we as a congregation very often confuse those two. Nor do I think that list is a comprehensive list of all the fruits of the spirit. I think a number of other things should be added, which we in the church tend to think of as good, but not as necessary as (random item on your list): Service of fellow man, charitable giving, kind heart, cheerful countenance, humility, etc. I think these items are just as important as the ones on your list, but I agree, the ones on your list are what are seen as vital, and mine are just niceties. I could be a grumpy stingy old man, but as long as I read the scriptures everyday and go to church every week and tell people all about it, I’m good, right?

  14. Steve Evans says:

    B.Russ, despite your personal reaction to the talk I assure you it is is alive and well in active use all over.

    And you are probably right (along with chris) re: fruits, but that’s not how we really use that list, now are we.

  15. I don’t think everything on that list is necessarily required, I mean you can get the magazines free online, but I also don’t think you should use the fact people expect those things as an excuse not to do them to try to prove you can get good revelation anyway. As for throwing out that list in favor of KISS, how much simpler are you hoping to get it?

    Last night in Institute we were studying Joseph Fielding Smith and were each given different questions he’d been asked and answered. Mine was about dying before accountability but what struck me was a quote from him along the lines of it should NOT be the goal of faithful LDS to get to the celestial kingdom, many people will get there to be servants. So maybe you can be “saved” without bothering to pray or study or go to meetings (I’m pretty sure guys are required to get the priesthood since they’re required before temple ordinance) but you’ll only get as far as the effort you put into it.

  16. Steve Evans says:

    Rebeckila, that JFS quote is not part of our canon. But even if it were, we’re all servants.

    Is the endowment required for salvation?

  17. I’m well aware of its widespread use. I get the shivers often.

    No, thats not how we use the list. I was just stating that I think its a valuable, albeit incomplete list, but it gets used incorrectly. Not as a stick with which we can measure our own progress, but as a canon to judge the righteousness of others. Or pretty much the same thing that I think you were saying.

  18. Interesting post.

    It is striking that most of the items on the list are private–frankly, I don’t have a clue who pays fast offering or not or saying their prayers. Obviously, showing up at church is more conspicuous, but I wonder how often the validity of someone’s comments are actually based on this list. Rather, I think we tend to judge other people’s opinions, consciously or subconsciously, on even more trivial matters: are they relatively well-groomed, are they a “scriptorian,” are they usually on time to meetings and sit in the front and always look earnest? I think we then assume that those scrupulous in these matters leave a pretty clean-whistle life in the rest of the “list.”

    At a personal level, I actually think the list can be helpful sometimes. If you feel like you’re spiritually “drifting,” some sort of routine can be helpful to get your bearings (I’ll admit, though, I’m terrible at consistency on the majority of that list). I find them especially helpful if I feel a bit distant from my family or wife–am I creating meaningful time with them like family prayer or home evening?

  19. It seems to me that the dialogues taking place in regards to the role of women in the church or the role of homosexuals in the church are not necessarily parallel to the Harold B. Lee anecdote that is being used here.

    Very often the arguments are taking place between people who are equally active in the church OR they are taking place between people who are members of the church and people who are non-members.

    But more importantly, perhaps, moving past that part of the equation, I have yet really to hear anyone say (as did the inactive brother in the anecdote): “I prayed about this topic and got x answer in regards to the position I am taking.”

    I think most of the arguments, regardless of what position is taken – and regardless of whether the arguments are being made by active members, inactive members or non-members – are based in logic and reasoning of some sort, rather than on actual prayer or inspiration.

    I recently read the David O. McKay biography (the one dealing also with the rise of modern Mormonism) and found that it did state that President McKay told people he knew, in private conversation, that he had prayed or was praying about the issue of giving priesthood to blacks – but I don’t know if he was as clear on that subject in speaking to the main body of the church. I don’t think he clarified that point. But I was glad to read that he was prayerful about it.

    It’s quite possible though, that many times, people (again, whether members or non-members of the church) take hard positions on issues and argue about them, without praying about their opinions and ideas. I suppose I’d be guilty of that too in most cases.

  20. Of course, I think this all springs out of using Nephi’s comment that we are saved, after all we can do, and then mixing that with our understanding of the Atonement, and incorrectly assuming that our own actions will either verify or nullify Christ’s sacrifice for us.
    (Wow, you saved 27 cents honey. Lets go buy you that bicycle . . . )

  21. Steve, I suppose one wonders what a person is doing instead of those things in The List (or in Elder Lee’s list). If completing The List is seen as tantamount to leading a Christlike life, or is a viable replacement for a Christlike life, then there’s an issue, isn’t there. But if The List facilitates the leading of a Christlike life, then maybe it’s not so bad.

    Agree that there are many alternatives for Elder Lee’s response to the questioning brother. But it’s not a huge surprise that Elder Lee responded as he did.

  22. “So are you saying it’s OK for us to require people to establish their bona fides or insider status? Should we require our fellow saints to show us fellow sinners that they’ve paid their dues?”

    Depends. “It’s ok for us to require people”, well, require *for what*? For convincing or being convinced in dispassionate argument? For spiritual leadership? For establishing trust? For hanging out on Fridays? For playing Scrabble?

    I think there are times when this is completely appropriate and others when it’s not. In the story above, given two people making dissimilar and otherwise untestable claims to revelation, I’m more likely to believe the one who seems to be living a Godly lifestyle. Is that any surprise?

    I’m coming at this from my own personal experiences of course. If you need me to spell it out more, I can.

  23. #16: “Is the endowment required for salvation?”

    As I understand things? No, but it is required for Exaltation. The Temple ordinances concern advancing in the Celestial Kingdom, and pertain to Exaltation.

    Salvation = Celestial Kingdom = Baptism & Holy Ghost = Justification & Sanctification

    Exaltation = “Highest Degree” of the Celestial Kingdom = Ordinances and Covenants of the Temple

  24. Miss Otis Regrets says:

    Please share footnote #4. How do you know this? I love to hear stories where original intent has been skewed to meet the speakers’ needs.

  25. I think there are times when this is completely appropriate and others when it’s not. In the story above, given two people making dissimilar and otherwise untestable claims to revelation, I’m more likely to believe the one who seems to be living a Godly lifestyle. Is that any surprise?

    Its not a surprise, but I think it should be noted that when Christ called his Apostles, they weren’t the High Priests, they were fishermen. His close friends and disciples were often publicans.
    I’m not sure, but I think with Joseph Smith it was often similar.
    So no, its no surprise that you would believe the one who *seems* to be living a godly lifestyle, but perhaps you’re judging based on incorrect or irrelevant criteria.

  26. Latter-day Guy says:

    I sometimes wonder if we use “the list” after the fact. That is, we say, “Oh, you got the wrong answer,” then we pull out the list and go down point by point until we find a box they haven’t gotten checked, so we can say, “Well there’s your problem. Of course you haven’t gotten reliable revelation, if you haven’t [lived the WoW, done your home teaching, planted a garden, rotated your year’s supply, etc.]!”

  27. But again, judging *for what*?

    Fisherman vs. high priest isn’t one of the things on the list, and I’d suggest that lots of people knew the HP had been corrupted ever since it became a semi-political office under the Hasmoneans…

  28. Senile Old Fart says:

    If we put our minds to it, I’m sure that we can reach 613 Mormon Mitzvot in short order.

  29. In rereading, I’m not sure the second half of this follows from the first.

    “treat[ing] each other with Christian love and charity” is not at all equivalent to “accepting the arguments of others.”

    There’s a difference between internal and external criticism in any group. Generally, if one does not have the characteristics of an insider, one’s criticism is treated as external criticism.
    Again, this is not a terrible surprise, nor exclusive to Mormonism by any means.

    So, are we criticizing this phenomenon, or are we criticizing the criteria by which we demarcate insider vs outsider?

  30. I wonder if Pres. Lee may have used his series of questions more as a teaching tool than as an exhibition of doctrine… Meaning that the questions he posed could make this Brother look inside himself and perhaps make changes that would facilitate revelation and enhance the Brother’s life overall. Not to mention that Pres. Lee may have preferred responding in that way to “pulling rank.” Total speculation, though–I guess I just tend to give the benefit of the doubt.

    I do agree, though, that often we put far too much stock in the outward appearance of righteousness, both for ourselves and others. And we don’t put nearly enough emphasis on the fundamental, internal (unobservable) changes that take place in each individual as a result of conversion. You know, things like rooting out pride and loving others as ourselves and setting (and maintaining) priorities that put God first, and service to others (especially our families) next, ahead of the natural man/woman.

    Anyway, those are just a couple thoughts/observations… Maybe I don’t know anything, though…

  31. it's a series of tubes says:

    I have a testimony of Steve’s first sentence after the quoted story.

  32. For what it’s worth, if anything, the case Pres. Lee was talking about involved a married man ca. 1940 who was doing his damnedest to convince young (teen) girls of the necessity to their salvation of their becoming his polygamous wives. He was successful in some cases, and unsuccessful but perilously close in at least one other case — the case of a woman whom I’ll be seeing at a funeral next Tuesday.

    Does the story seem less creepy to those of you who object from knowing that the case was such a serious one, one with a black-and-white answer and no interpretive wiggle room (either he slept with the girls or he didn’t), and in which there was abundant credible testimony from many victims and their families? I submit that there’s no way the guilty man’s brother received an answer from anything but a wrong source, and that this isn’t a matter of arrogance or buttressing of authority or anything else “creepy” on the part of the council.

    If this is a threadjack, I apologize, Steve. I just may be one of the last ones living who knows the background of your illustration; I’m pretty sure none of my cousins know.

  33. I don’t know that it’s a shibboleth, exactly, to weigh the opinion of someone who “pulls their own weight” in an organization more than an interested third party, or even a disinterested hanger-on. It’s a poor prosecutor who can’t prejudice a jury against the testimony of a convicted felon, but it’s an equally poor judge (or jury) who doesn’t at least consider that the felon may be telling the truth.
    And that’s what we’re getting at here, isn’t it? How much credence we should give those who want to be part of the conversation, but don’t want to do much of the work. I am interested in knowing what those who see the Lee story as “arrogant” might have done differently. While I see how it can be read as arrogant, I also can’t see how a stake president could/would approach that in any way that wouldn’t be MORE arrogant or more curt. As it is, it looks to me like President Lee discerned, through a series of questions, whether the man he was talking to was likely to have had the same experience with the Spirit that the high council, in his experience, did, and taught the man why there was a difference in the process.
    I think it can be read as “You’re not as righteous as the rest of us,” but I really don’t think that’s where it’s coming from. As above, I think any leader, whether a stake president or whatever, should take others’ arguments under consideration whatever their perceived status, but it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone if the argument of the Relief Society president regarding the role of women in the ward is weighed a little higher than the OP reference to someone who doesn’t attend sacrament meeting.

  34. So can one have, or develop, a theological apraxia?

  35. I don’t see what this has to do with rock(ing) and roll(ing) all night (and partying every day).

  36. Worthiness is a series of tubes! Just like the interwebs!!

    Seriously though, I think worthiness is seen as being binary. Either you are worthy to receive communication from the spirit or you aren’t. If someone is doing all the things on the list, you can accept them as worthy and therefore speaking for the spirit. If they aren’t, you can just dismiss them. Although the brother had some tubes that weren’t working, I bet as a brother to the accused, he could provide some valuable and unique input to the situation. The information might not change the outcome of the disciplinary council, but maybe it would change the way the outcome is communicated to the accused and in a way that makes it more likely that the accused would listen and and be edified. I think it’s unfortunate when we automatically dismiss the ideas and thoughts of others simply because we deem them unworthy of having the spirit.

    Also, I was kind of hoping this post would be about Gene Simmons. Totally disappointed.

  37. Do your Home Teaching. Do it better. Do it again.

    Serve a mission, or only date those who have served a mission.

    Have a big family.

    I know you weren’t specifically looking for additions to the list, but these seem like big ones. I’m pretty sure there are no Elders Quorum lessons besides Home Teaching Must Be Done. Showing up for moves seems to be another shibboleth that seperates the sheep from the goats, or the Saints from the mere Mormons.

    Missions are another big one. I remember the sad case of a convert I taught and confirmed on my mission – he was dating a girl on the East Coast – she was a college volleyball player, LDS, and all the rest. He joined more through the influence of a friend from work. But, when it came down to it, she decided she only wanted to marry a BYU grad returned missionary, and he as a college grad with a significant career and new convert to the Church just wasn’t good enough in her eyes. Even her dad was disgusted with her choice.

    The big family is another huge issue. I’ve only got one kid. It hasn’t been a big issue in the Midwest, but in Utah I’d get weekly questions about when we were going to have more kids – the people meant well, and I realized that, but it started to become a steady barrage of questions and comments. I think people within the Church have become more aware that fertility issues happen, but a few of them seem to think that regular temple attendance and scripture study can cure even the most difficult reproductive health concerns.

    We, as a people, are weird.

  38. Latter-day Guy says:

    Does the story seem less creepy[?]

    Um, no, Ardis. If anything, your 1st paragraph in #32 upped the “creep” factor a hundredfold. Of course, your context did make HBL’s comments seem significantly less harsh, if that’s what you meant. ;-)

    That said, I still think the issue Steve’s post raises is worth discussing.

  39. Does the story seem less creepy to those of you who object from knowing that the case was such a serious one,

    Actually Ardis, it kind of makes it more creepy. But at any rate, its not that its creepy, its that it comes off as “I’m a better Mormon than you so your revelation can’t be true.” I don’t know that I completely disagree with what President Lee was trying to communicate to the man (I don’t completely agree either, I don’t think its as cut and dry as a radio being tuned correctly = ability to receive revelation) But its mostly the way he said it that comes off as bad form.

  40. Yeah, Ardis–I’m not sure that makes it less creepy at all. It just makes it weirder than ever. If this was truly such an open-and-closed case (and I take your representation of the details as true), then I can’t fathom why HBL said much more than, “Whatever, dude.” to the brother.

  41. Another huge one is the male priesthood dress code of white shirt, dark business suit, tie, short hair, and clean-shaven face.
    I don’t think any of that’s in the official handbook, is it? Yet it’s SO IMPORTANT to members, especially in Utah. Personally, I call b***shit on it.

  42. Steve Evans says:

    Ardis, I didn’t know that background — is it documented anywhere?

  43. Only in restricted priesthood minutes, I suspect. My aunt didn’t write anything in her personal history; otherwise, it’s just my memory of the family history that used to be talked about by that generation. Every time Pres. Lee’s story was used in seminary or anywhere else, I went home and talked about it again with my mother.

    I realize that the nature of the case isn’t really important for your post — you’re talking about how a story like Pres. Lee’s is used, not about the story itself. But that’s what’s behind it, anyway.

  44. HBL was making a “open your eyes, dude” argument, and I disagree that it was in bad form. The brother HBL was addressing clearly believed in revelation (and that it could come from an alternate source), and HBL was basically making a statistical argument — “can all of these brethren be wrong?” Sure the talk comes across arrogant, and people with their eyes closed don’t usually see reason anyway, but still.

    Personally, I think of Steve’s list as an odds maker and predictive indicator. I think people who do all the things in the list are statistically more likely to be receptive to revelation with respect to things they ponder and bring before the Lord. Doesn’t make them infallible or unable to carry incorrect preconceived notions.

    I do think that everybody can make important contributions to our overall wisdom regardless how many items they can check off the list, but to say people who don’t attempt to follow the above are just as likely to know God’s will on any given subject is very egalitarian and, IMO, just plain wrong. Otherwise, what is the point in praying, reading your scriptures, etc., if there’s no wisdom gained?

  45. Actually, I’d even take my argument further and claim that a lot of the problems with the culture of the church comes specifically from people who are viewed as “list-worthy” and yet aren’t actually following the list.

  46. HBL was basically making a statistical argument — “can all of these brethren be wrong?”

    Actually, I think thats exactly what he’s _not_ doing. I think had he done that, I wouldn’t really have a problem with the story. Instead he attacked the worthiness of the brother and his ability to receive revelation from God. He went from defensive to offensive.

  47. I think Ardis’ back story makes the response from HBL much more understandable. He obviously can’t tell the brother the details of the case because of confidentiality and I take it from the brother’s responses (including his final reaction) that he was both sincere and genuinely misguided. If that got through to the guy, then more power to HBL.

    Of course, that doesn’t justify in the slightest the consistent misuse of the story forever after. The problem with good responses in a certain time and place is often that they are not universally applicable. I think the conclusions people make as they extrapolate from HBL’s comments are generally absurd. At least Ardis makes me feel better that the response may have been just what was needed at the time, even if we never should have told the story again thereafter.

  48. B. Russ, I agree HBL was going on the offensive and questioning the brother’s worthiness to receive revelation from God. Assuming Ardis’ story is basically right, the answer to Scott’s question as to why HBL didn’t just blow it off with “Whatever, dude” was that he was trying to wake the guy up, not blow him off. And arrogant as it may seem, I agree with HBL’s point.

    I kind of doubt there are all that many “completely worthy” people, and I’m convinced the rest of us do receive revelation too, but HBL’s point about receiving revelation when we’re completely out-of-whack is fair, and I don’t consider it bad form.

  49. I do think that everybody can make important contributions to our overall wisdom regardless how many items they can check off the list, but to say people who don’t attempt to follow the above are just as likely to know God’s will on any given subject is very egalitarian and, IMO, just plain wrong. Otherwise, what is the point in praying, reading your scriptures, etc., if there’s no wisdom gained?

    I don’t think that your last sentence follows logically at all. Steve isn’t arguing that people don’t gain wisdom for doing those things in any way. The question at hand is whether or not we should require affirmation that someone else does those things as a prerequisite for lending them credibility. To say it another way, it’s less a question of what wisdom we gain, and more about what wisdom we impute in others on the basis of their revealed statements about religious actions.

  50. It’s logical. It’s also statistical. Take two groups of people, one “list-worth” and one not. I claim the “list worthy” group is more likely to receive wisdom/revelation from God than the other (or there’s no point to the list). All other things being equal, taking one person from each group, I’d more likely trust advice from the “list-worthy” person than the other, especially if they’re claiming revelation.

    It’s not the same as a prerequisite for credibility, just a statistical indicator.

    Obviously, the best thing would be for me to have my own revelation as to who’s advice to take, so I need to follow the list to up my odds.

  51. I think what Ardis said about the specifics of the case certainly sheds a new light on the whole thing.

    I would only add that if the inactive brother had truly said a prayer and truly received an answer from the Lord, he would (I suppose) be able to still stick to his position. It’s a very touchy thing though, to make that kind of a claim. I suppose someone really has to KNOW that the Lord spoken to them – because otherwise the person is a liar or delusional. It seems to me from the way the story is told (admittedly from HBL’s perspective and experience) that the brother backed down once his account was challenged by HBL.

  52. Martin,
    I think we’re talking past each other.

  53. Scott, possibly.

    Last comment and I’ll shut up.

    Say you have a bishop who requests that all deacons wear white shirts and ties to pass the sacrament and some people who think the requirement is not only ridiculous, but un-Christian. The bishop argues that it teaches deacons to respect their office, maintain reverence, and remember the importance of the sacrament. The dissenters argue that the deacons miss the whole point of the sacrament, feel unrighteously dominated and judged, and are spiritually scared for life.

    Obviously, for any given deacon, either of their arguments could be correct. So who’s right? If the dissenters were humble followers of the above list and the bishop was not, I’d say statistically the dissenters were seeing something in the ward the bishop was not. However, if the opposite were true, but the dissenters still had a valid argument with respect to a specific deacon, the bishop’s plan has some likelihood of being better for the whole (incl. the specific young man).

    Again, no prerequisite for credibility, but statistically….

    Okay. The horse is dead.

  54. Is anyone but me bothered that “temple images in the home” is on this list? Do people really think it matters whether we cross stitch a temple on our throw pillows or put a temple picture up on the wall? Does that make us better Mormons? I really don’t understand why that should be on the list at all. Studying the scriptures is a commandment. Putting up a picture of the temple is not, and in many cases is just whiting the sepulchre.

  55. Steve Evans says:

    Kristine, indeed — and the subscription to Church magazines is a similar injunction straight from the top.

  56. Cynthia L. says:

    Martin, fortunately, this particular question is resolved without resort to The List, assuming The Handbook supersedes The List.

    2010 Handbook:

    Ties and white shirts are recommended because they add to the dignity of the ordinance. However, they should not be required as a mandatory prerequisite for a priesthood holder to participate.

  57. “If you are one of us and do as we do, we will listen to what you have to say”

    On the other hand, this is the slogan of academia.

    It also is the slogan of the democrat/republican/green/libertarian/tea/whatever party.

    To be concise, I think it is natural to be more open and trusting with people you share commonalities with. I agree that we need to be careful not to over do this, but I think it’s a little presumptuous to assume that just because someone in some other situation had their line in the sand at a different spot than we would that they are in the wrong.

  58. MCQ, our bishopric “challenged” all the families in our ward to hang pictures of the temple in their kids’ room as a ward goal for 2010, fwiw. It didn’t bother me (I don’t have kids – yet), and they didn’t do it in a preachy manner, but yeah.

  59. Steve Evans says:

    Martin sadly makes the classic error of confusing correlation and causation. He also makes the classic error of calling something statistical when, in fact, he has no data from which to gather any statistics.

  60. Natalie B. says:

    I was reading some early church publications last week, and one of the things that struck me was that the author (not JS) was very into the need to return to the practices in the OT where one is rewarded for keeping various rules. It seems to me that this idea is a very large part of our culture–we find it in everything from The Book of Mormon, where people are rewarded if they keep the commandments, to the stories we tell about being blessed for paying tithing. This list seems to fit in.

    The question I keep having is why do we value this way of thinking so much?

  61. Steve and Kristine, I think those are just nice suggestions that have the added benefit of raising funds for the Church. But I don’t consider them as continuing mandates like prayer and scripture reading, nor do most people I know. I think that’s pretty silly, frankly.

  62. MCQ, you don’t “consider them as continuing mandates like prayer and scripture study” because you’re a revelation-less apostate.

  63. Lee’s appeal to the authority of the “best men of the stake” brought to mind something I remember reading years ago in the memoirs of Felix Frankfurter about how he got involved in the Sacco and Vanzetti case. He thought nothing much about the case, knowing only what he read in the papers, and assumed that the men were guilty. That was until he read John Henry Wigmore answer critics of the conviction (which was on appeal) by saying that there was no way that the entire Boston Brahmin establishment justice system got this one wrong and that the two swarthy immigrants were innocent. Rather than settle the matter, that sent up a red flag for Frankfurter, who investigated the case and concluded that the men were railroaded.

    Of course, it turned out in the end that they in fact were guilty as hell, and some of their most public defenders knew it, including Upton Sinclair, who admitted as much in private correspondence. But, even so, the vindication doesn’t excuse Wigmore’s fatuous comment.

  64. In Jesus the Christ by James E. Talmadge, the author tells about Caiaphas the High Priest receiving a revelation that Christ would die to save their nation. This revelation was received while they were plotting to kill Christ. Talmadge points out that Caiaphas is obviously unrighteous, but was able to receive revelation due to his position as the High Priest of the Temple. If I had been in Harold B. Lee’s position, I would have used the authority, not righteousness as a was to back up my revelation. Obviously with revelation it helps to be righteous, but it will only come if you have the stewardship to receive it.

  65. Latest psychological research says that if you are doing complex, creative work, if you are “incentivized” to do the work better and faster, in actuality, the incentive inhibits you from doing the work better and faster.

    So if you are working with the celestial kingdom as a reward, you will do a worse job than if you are just doing the work because you like working. This seems to be a Jesus aphorism, isn’t it?

    I trust that this is the case because I am rotten lousy with lists and, really, the party in the terrestrial kingdom is way better.

    I had a one-on-one with HBL when I was interviewed for my mission. (Way back when missionaries were interviewed by GAs) I asked a dumb question and he, very patiently, responded with a long answer. This was late in the evening after what must have been a long day for him. I was impressed. If he was as thoughtful with the man in the story as he was with me, he was really trying even if in a condescending way. If it were not for correlation….

    My impression is that we are here, on earth, to learn what could not be taught except by this experience. Therefore it is as Joseph Smith revealed, that what we learn will be the important stuff that we take with us. What we do, not so much, except as a schoolmaster for what we learn. Doing follows knowing. Knowing gives doing meaning, and conversely, doing gives knowing meaning.

    Doing without knowing? I guess better, sometimes, than ignorant inactivity but not necessarily, because this gives rise to inquisitions.

  66. Mitchell Rickey says:

    I know that this post has been up for a while, but I’m a newcomer to the blog and wanted to comment all the same. I don’t really have anything to add, mostly I just wanted to say thanks. I personally get so bogged down with the checklist theology that I find it detracts from the ‘more important things.’ (It reminds me of the good, better, best talk that everyone likes to throw around whenever you miss any kind of meeting for a different obligation) Anyway…my thoughts are kind of scrambled but I just wanted to say I love the blog so far…keep it up. I look forward to reading more.

  67. Steve Evans says:

    Thanks, Mitchell. You may want to peruse some of our archives as well — we’ve been doing this for a long time.

  68. Thomas Parkin says:

    You know what’s better than a picture of the temple in the kids room? Three or four pictures of the temple, 10 pictures of the temple. I took the picture of the First Presidency and photoshopped halos behind their heads so the kids wouldn’t miss the point. Then, the woman pointed out to me how Catholic it looked. Rather than give any room to the Church of the Devil to make inroads with my children, I took it down. Fortunately, I had another picture of the temple to cover the white space. I want the walls totally covered. White space on the kid’s walls is just asking for them to use their imaginations! Not before the age of eight, you don’t!! If they are imagining at age seven, imagine what they might be imagining at age 14! Or, rather, don’t! Quick, sing a hymn.

  69. Thomas, with all that temple artwork, you probably don’t have room for a Greg Olson painting, do you? Or a McNaughton? What about Footsteps?

    In your effort to crowd out the devil, you’ve become an innkeeper who makes no room for Jesus.

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