The Manner in Which I’m Mormon: My First Principles and Ordinances

The first principles and ordinances in my life, borne of my experiences and observations, are these:

  1. Exposure, which leads to awareness, or, in other words, the knowledge of good and evil
  2. Awareness, which leads to gratitude and wonder
  3. Wonder, which leads to vision and discipline
  4. Discipline, which leads to understanding and becoming
  5. Understanding, which leads to humility and perspective
  6. Becoming and perspective, which lead to joy, which is sustainable happiness
  7. Sustainable happiness, which is the purpose of life

They aren’t as concise as the 4th Article of Faith, but they work for me. Also, they are a work in progress. There are missing pieces. For example, you see that there’s nothing in there about our relationships with others — nothing about love, kindness, family, or friendship. Those are deeply important to me, but I’m not sure how they fit into the structure I have here. As I make more sense of the life, things, and the world, my first principles and ordinances will change.

That said, I’m pretty confident in putting “exposure” at the root of the tree. It is the base ordinance (or principle or virtue…I’m not quite consistent in distinguishing between those three terms yet.) Without exposure to foreign ideas and experiences, we will never have the perspective necessary to judge the useful from the less useful, the “happifying” (to take a word from Brigham Young) from the merely “contentifying”. I believe that is the lesson of 2 Nephi chapter 2, Lehi’s great treatise on opposition and experience: it is worthwhile — necessary, in fact — to understand the merits of the positions we disagree with in order to make a fair judgment of the positions we already agree with.

Since Steve Jobs’ passing yesterday, the quote I’ve seen most associated with him is: “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking.” I agree with that entirely, and I believe that exposure is the first step toward living one’s own life.

This doesn’t necessarily mean rejecting your initial beliefs, though your personal experiences and testing of those beliefs will likely involve reorienting and even rejecting some of them. As a result, however, you come to own the beliefs that prove valuable as your own rather than as “borrowed light”. As Bruce R. McConkie said, “In speaking of these wondrous things I will use my own words. Though you might think these are the words of scripture, words spoken by other Apostles and Prophets, true it is that they were first proclaimed by others, but they are now mine.” He took ownership of their words, not through plagiarism but through wholesale embodiment borne of lived experience.

Is it difficult? Yes. It’s hard to challenge the beliefs we are comfortable with. It’s hard to admit that we might be wrong in our understanding of things. And it’s hard to deal with the fallout of change.

Is it dangerous? Perhaps, but not so much as it is just difficult. Truth doesn’t need to be coddled or handled with kid gloves. Truth can handle examination, questioning, and comparison. It can take a pounding, for it is by the pounding that its truthfulness is revealed.

13 comments for “The Manner in Which I’m Mormon: My First Principles and Ordinances

  1. Living with the results of other people’s thinking is another name for relationships.

    Even God has, in his way, adapted himself to our thinking and allows himself to be constrained by it.

    Twaddle is still twaddle even when gaseously diffuse.

  2. I think this is a good list of foundational type concepts that affect our growth. I think in here you are missing one important ingredient, which is Desire.

  3. Stephen, Adam, and Jacob — thanks for the kind words :)

    The other Adam — I’m not sure what you mean by God constraining Himself to the results of our thinking. Are you saying that we have power over God in a sense?

    chris — Where would you put desire in the tree? I think I could see it as a synonym for what I call “wonder”.

  4. I would put it in between 3 and 4.

    Your wonder and amazement about something lead you to desire it, but you’ll never get there without discipline. I was thinking also that in addition it could be at position 0 (perhaps in both places as different concepts).

    In general, I just thought this tree is lacking “agency” (and based on the terminology you’re using it seems like Desire would be the appropriate word for agency in this context) although each branch has some degree of agency implied, it is nowhere explicit. Perhaps the trunk of the tree could be desire/agency with each of these being branches. Dunno what your concept of it was… but

  5. Adam, does God allow himself to be constrained by our thoughts, or does he allow us to constrain our concepts of Him?

  6. chris, I don’t think it’s even possible for agency to enter the tree until after 2. You can’t choose an option (exercise agency) until you are aware of the option, and you can’t be aware of the option until you have been exposed to it. So if I were to add agency, it would come somewhere before or after wonder. But probably it would end up becoming synonymous with wonder and desire. They all serve the same purpose, leading into disciplined action.

  7. And you can’t be exposed to something unless you place yourself in a position of being exposed to it… and you can’t become aware of something unless you choose to receive some degree of exposure to it.

    Surely, we’ve all seen rhetorically cases of people of people putting their head in the sand. While I may be exposed by a billboard as I drive down the highway. In every instance, I had to do something to put myself in that path of being exposed to something. So perhaps you could have agency as a seed at the 0 position and desire higher up.

    But I disagree that you can be exposed to something without having previously exercised some degree of agency (you can push it all the way back to coming to earth to get a body and be exposed to these things to begin with)

  8. “Truth can handle examination,questioning,and comparison…” And yet, the church urges one NOT to examine, question, or compare, as it might weaken one’s testimony, lead us astray, etc. How do you align your “first principles and ordinances” with that? I left the church after examination, questioning, and comparison. I was then told I must not have 1) had a testimony to begin with, 2) I must not be living right, 3) I’m not reading my scriptures, praying, etc…. All wrong. My family still prays together and we attend another church. My testimony of my Father in Heaven is stronger than ever. But I LOVE this website! I was LDS for 44 years! Very difficult to leave behind what was such an important part of my existence for so long. I loved your post by the way, I hope you don’t take this as “bashing”. Quite the contrary.

  9. chris — I agree that we each can choose to expose ourselves to new things by exercising agency, but we are limited in those choices by previous exposures. For example, a Mongolian nomad who lived in 1834 wouldn’t be able to choose to become a classical ballerina. No matter how much agency she chose to exercise, it would be entirely outside the realm of her exposure. Also, when we allow ourselves to be exposed to new experiences through use of our agency, we cannot know beforehand what we will be exposed to. I can choose to exercise my agency to watch a particular movie, but I can’t exercise my agency to choose what that movie will contain. No matter how much I read up on it beforehand, I can’t know how it will affect me — whether it will be motivating, depressing, inspiring, etc. So, for me, exposure still precedes agency in determining what we become.

    Seattle Jon — Thanks, I’m glad that works for you :)

    Jo — Thanks for coming by, I certainly won’t take sincerely and respectfully expressed opinions as “bashing”. You’re right that we as a church don’t know how to respond effectively to those who choose to leave. There’s no room in our narrative for, “Perhaps there is something wrong with the church,” and so we turn instead (as you observed) to, “There must be something wrong with that person.” It’s uncharitable and disingenuous. As to your questions about why we are discouraged from questioning doctrines, policies, and practices, I supposed it’s because some are correct and some are incorrect, and it’s easier to try to avoid the question of which is which entirely than it is to get into the sticky dialogue of working through it in a church setting.

Comments are closed.