Simple Obedience

Image source. Trivia fact: Henry B. Eyring is Miles’s Dad’s 1st cousin–which makes him, in the terminology I recommend in New Words for a New Year a “second uncle.” Henry B. Eyring is currently the “1st Counselor” to President Thomas S. Monson, effectively the vice president of the Mormon Church.

Image source. Trivia fact: Henry B. Eyring is Miles’s Dad’s 1st cousin–which makes him, in the terminology I recommend in New Words for a New Year a “second uncle.” Henry B. Eyring is currently the “1st Counselor” to President Thomas S. Monson, effectively the vice president of the Mormon Church.

As you can see in the example above, the phrase “simple obedience” is in use among Mormon Church leaders. In my Storified tweets in “A Perspective on the Mormon Church’s Official Twitter Feed,” I interpreted the phrase “simple obedience” as an injunction to not question Mormon Church leaders. (In my life, I have questioned Mormon Church leaders a great deal; they have not always been happy about that.) I do think it has that as one of its meanings, but it has another meaning as well, which is nicely described by this anonymous guest post (which came to me initially as a Facebook message). It is important to understand this meaning as well, particularly for those whose secular background would leave them without the awareness of such a concept. 


Hello Miles. I hope you are well. We haven’t talked directly for quite a while, but I do check out your blog from time to time and quite often find insightful, interesting things there about both economics and religion. Though I sometimes find myself in disagreement with your interpretation on matters of religion, I don’t comment because I think religious views are based on individual experience that varies a good deal from person to person. Disagreement also makes life interesting and enjoyable, so vive la difference! Nevertheless, among your comments about certain church originated tweets following the most recent session of conference was something that seemed to make a rather heroic assumption about the author’s intent, on which I had a non-public comment to offer. I don’t recall it exactly what it was, but unless I misread, you said something along the lines that an exhortation to “simply obey” was code speak for suppression of independent thought. I also don’t know the intent of the author, but it seems equally likely to me that the intent was to urge someone struggling with life to try obedience as a way to get one’s life in order.   

I have known people with certain behavioral issues for which a reasonable approach might be to simply set some guidelines, live by them for a while (even unthinkingly so, perhaps) to establish more productive patterns of behavior, and then move forward with a better foundation for life. Similarly, I can imagine telling a struggling student that he/she should try “just doing the work” to see if that makes things better.  I wouldn’t consider that suppression of independent thought, but just an exhortation to play by the rules. Now, I think the most productive form of “obedience” arises in response to an individual’s internal desire to follow the principles that serve as one’s moral foundation. And I believe that obedience to whatever set of rules one might follow without considering how those rules align with one’s moral compass does not tend to lead one to the further development of moral character. Nevertheless, I think there are times when simply playing by the rules can help one get through a difficult stretch, and, as I’ve already said, may help one establish a more productive foundation on which to live. Essentially, while I am not a fan of “obedience for its own sake,” neither am I a fan of “disobedience for its own sake.”  Suggesting that urging obedience is equivalent to limiting independent thought, in my opinion, leans too far toward the second of these two errors.