April 8, 2009

Why We Act

Throughout history there have been a lot of theories to explain why people do what they do. Elder Dallin Oaks gave an interesting perspective on these reasons (entire talk here) in an LDS setting. He covers from the most selfish of reasons to what he explains as the best reasons to do what we do.

For example, at the selfish end of the spectrum, hedonism suggests that we do everything we do to avoid pain and increase pleasure. In other words, human beings are entirely selfish. According to this theory, I would never do the dishes unless it gave me pleasure (e.g., verbal praise from my wife) or helped me avoid pain (e.g., having her mad at me). All of human actions could be explained with this theory. According to a hedonist, Christ did not suffer on the cross to save mankind, but so that he could be worshiped forever and avoid being seen as a failure or coward.
Of course, hedonism is not a theory most people agree with.

According to Oaks, one of the greatest reasons for anyone to do something is for the hope of an eternal reward, such as eternal happiness or salvation. I disagree with Oaks on his interpretation of the rightness of such motivation. I really don't see that reason for action as different from hedonism.

For example, some readers of this blog have attempted to divert my course of action by telling me that my family and I will lose eternal rewards because of my choice. In other words, to them it does not matter so much whether the action is right or wrong, but what rewards will be gained or lost from the decision.

Oaks suggests that the greatest reason to do anything is out of charity, or "the pure love of Christ". I like his conclusion very much in that love is a far better reason to act than selfishness.

I would like, however, to further suggest that an even higher reason to act is for the simple reason that it is the right thing to do. If you meet a man without a coat on a freezing day, give him your coat not because you want to feel better about yourself (hedonism). Give him your coat not because God expects it of you (eternal reward/hedonism). But give him your coat because he is cold - because he needs a coat.

Of course, regardless of why you give him the coat, give him the coat. If you do it to impress that cute girl across the street, at least he's getting the coat. But may I suggest that to do it because it's the right thing to do is the best reason to do anything?

Regarding my decision, some have indicated that it must be out of selfishness; I must have left the Church so that I could free up some time on Sundays or so that I could start gambling or drinking. Contrary to what such individuals may think, this has been a very painful process for me. I have never been so attacked in all my life - not even from the German people on my mission for the LDS Church. I have never felt so judged by people I love and respect.

Yet I have chosen this course because it is right. I have acted because I know it is the right thing to do. I did not do this because I would get a great reward. I did not do this out of love for anyone or anything (although I love my daughter more than anything and believe it will be for her benefit). I did this because it is the right thing to do. I don't expect all the readers to understand or want to understand that. At some point it doesn't matter if they understand. It is still right.


Richard Packham said...

Remember the old hymn:

"Do what is right, let the consequence follow;
Battle for freedom in spirit and might.
And with stout heart, look ye forth till tomorrow -
God will protect you: then do what is right!"

The second verse describes your journey, Eli:

"Do what is right; the shackles are falling;
Chains of the bondsmen no longer are bright;
Lightened by hope, soon they'll cease to be galling;
Truth goeth onward: Do what is right!"

Shawn Telford said...

Wow--and you think the Mormons are self-righteous and judgmental! I certainly don't buy into Mormon theology and can't disagree with many of your arguments, but the fact that you claim you are turning your family's life upside down and suffering all these "attacks" because it is the "right thing to do" smacks of hipocracy. I don't know you or your story directly, but it sounds to me like you have some unresolved issues from your past and are desperately seeking to validate yourself and your actions (as evidenced by this blog!) Luckily for you, I suppose, you are attracting other messed up "supporters" (who no doubt have their own agendas) who seem to be giving you the slap on the back that you are desperatly looking for. Good luck, man, I hope you find some resolution with yourself.

Eli said...

Response to Shawn: Are you suggesting I should believe in what I'm doing? You'll have to explain how it is hypocritical of me to do the right thing. Do I not ask the same of everyone? You're right - you don't know me, but this is me resolving those issues from my past. I don't seek validation with this blog - no one is forced to come here - I provide opportunity for others to know why. You sound pretty messed up yourself if you have to go to strangers' blogs and attack their psyche to make you feel okay about your own.

Epicurus said...

Thanks for sharing your reasoning. I've learned that it's very important to trust your own thinking and your intuition, and that sounds like what you have been doing. These days I am focusing less on "the rewards of the next life" and focusing more on living authentically in the here and now. I'm at peace with who I am and where I am in life and that's very satisfying for me.

le said...

I have to agree with Shawn -- except I do know you. (I was pointed to this blog by a common friend, otherwise I would not waste my time.) I think it's like Shawn says, some validation that gives you a lift. I'll bet there are plenty of others that just shake their heads and wonder what your agenda really is? Your justifications are humorous to read; your call for open discussion laughable considering the context, and when called on it like Shawn did, you lash out. True colors. (You can do the same to me if it gives you hedonistic pleasure.)

Obviously things are not as you say. This is not about religion, though you have probably done a good job of tearing down what others hold sacred. (Is this motivated by something you hold against your parents?) My friend, you need to look a lot deeper, and I'm not talking about mormonism (or whatever its called). For you to spend this amount of time and effort on something you say you don't believe is psycho. If you really felt as you say, you'd just do your thing (resign is an interesting use of words - were you getting paid?), and quietly go about your life. But, you didn't. OK, so you're a little messed up? As if anyone was "normal", but it's pretty obvious to perhaps all but your "other messed up 'supporters'" that there is more here. Certainly your schooling should tell you that.

Attention? Partly. A strike against your parents? Interesting. Lashing out at something you find constraining? Hmmmm. Trying to convince yourself you don't believe what you really do deep down? That could cause this kind of turmoil. You can fill in the other possibilities. And you probably should so you can get back on an even keel and give appropriate time and attention to your family.

I guess the funny part is how many have taken your red herring to feed your ego and argue so many points of no proof. (By the way, history is not proof. History is an incomplete perspective from a point of view, recorded with the bias of the author. You seem to put a lot of clout there. It is perspective, not truth. Any history buff will tell you that.) Your real issue is not mentioned, but from a acquainted perspective, from someone who looks up to you for the values you now decry, it certainly makes me curious. The attention is quite obviously part of your motivation. What is the rest? Well, good luck with the herrings. I wish you the best in discovering what's really going on.

Eli said...

Response to le: For someone who knows me so well and knows way more about the Church than I, you sure haven't even bothered addressing the issues I bring up. I like how you're so uncomfortable with the real issues, so you insist it must be some psychological problem.
If you feel this blog is to tear down the LDS Church, that is your reaction. There is nothing at all I can say that you will not find offensive. No one is forcing you to come to this blog, I simply invite it for discussion. If you want to discuss the history, then discuss it. Give me sources that say Joseph Smith never married other women. Give me sources that say he did not marry teenagers. Give me any reason to believe that Joseph Smith actually translated something. Give me any reason to believe that the Book of Mormon really is what it claims to be, other than "I feel pretty nice about it."
Give me a response with some substance, for once. These ignorant and groundless personal attacks are neither here nor there, and just waste everybody's time.

Stephanie said...

I find it interesting that none of the naysayers attempt to address the historical and factual issues about the religion you share with everyone. Many are very content to tell you that you are selfish and going through a psychotic break at your family's expense, but none will disagree with the evidence you present to support your decision to leave the church.

Interestingly enough, validation is necessary to make a decision useful, for anyone of any religion or those involved in a decision making process. If we could not validate our choices with evidence that support the decision, then what is the purpose of such a choice?

For someone who is supposed to be angry and backbiting towards the church (according to some posters here anyway) you appear to be using all of your critical thinking skills to support your decision to leave your religion. The only anger found here is from those who are pouting at a grown up decision they cannot or are too close minded to accept. I certainly hope those in your real world do not treat you this way, as you deserve better company than that.

Eli said...

Response to Stephanie: Thank you very much for your thoughts. I very much appreciate the support.
To everyone: I have to admit that in some of my responses to comments I have been perhaps overly defensive. When I am personally attacked in such poor taste, it sometimes feels necessary to defend with equal intensity. As I was raised with Christian values my entire life, I do feel that loving one's enemies is sound advice, and I will be better at that in the future.

le said...

I came back to see if you had responded . . . that’s a pretty angry response. Hedonism?

You’re right, I did not address your religious issues. Your post was about motivation for making decisions -- I simply questioned your motives in this time consuming effort. I think you’ve done a pretty thorough job of it, by the way, but why so much negative energy? The world needs more positive.

To criticize is easy. Many journalists get paid for it -- that’s their motivation -- but it’s just dirty laundry. To be constructive is quite another matter. That takes positive energy, and it’s much more difficult to create than to tear down. It does not matter to me what you say about your church. You can say good or bad about any church you want. Perhaps you did not consider that someone might be more interested in you than in your beliefs? My comment was (apparently) a feeble attempt to have you step back and see the anger and animosity in what you are doing. Is that who you are? Anyone who spends that much negative energy on anything (politics, religion, revenge, etc.) obviously has deeper issues. Yours may well be rooted in your church, but it isn’t the red herring you hold out as the topic in this blog. It’s your choice to be angry. Why anger when you say it is the “right” decision? Again, I’ll say it, if the religious points you state were really the problem, you would quietly do what you felt was right with respect to your association with religion, then get on with life. The intensity, justification and anger you put behind it says there is more to it.

You responded just as I predicted -- angry and defensive. The hit pigeon? OK. You’ll probably respond similarly to this. I’m not attacking you. I’m probably wasting time. You’re educated, what would you say about the writing? I see in your writing, and especially your responses, that you are angry about much more than history and your teenage wives.

I certainly wish you luck in resolving that hatred. I especially wish your wife well in putting up with your public desecration and humiliation of what she says she holds dear. Believe it or don’t believe it, but making a mockery of something your spouse believes is no way to show love. She is obviously a much better person than you thought.

If you think this is a personal attack, think again. Use a mirror and your textbook on personal relationships. If this means nothing to you then I’m wrong, but if you are feeling defensive, then I’m right.

Eli said...

Response to le: It's very interesting that you claim to know both me and my wife better than we know each other or ourselves. As a student of psychology, it's clear to me your responses are not about my issues. You want to make yourself feel better by attacking me.
Hatred and honesty are two very different approaches to the Church and its history. I have chosen the latter. The fact that you interpret it as hatred only stresses your discomfort with honesty. If you're interested in my motives, you sure are quick to judge for yourself - indicating to me that you suffer a superiority complex. I don't blame you, though. If you're LDS, you're brought up to believe in elitism. You've made your judgment, I've made mine. If you are so bothered by mine, you're welcome to avoid this blog. I don't seek out your blog and attack you. So who is more of a hater?

Anonymous said...

...I agree with le... people who leave the church can't leave it... alone.

Eli said...

Response to Anonymous: It was all I knew for most of my life. I use this blog to share my experiences with it. If you don't like it, no one is forcing you to read it.
It seems that those who leave the Church can't be left alone in peace either.
I point out one more time, however, that through all of the personal attacks, no one has argued with my specific reasons. Only my motivation and the consequences have been discussed. Not one attack has given me reason to believe that my reasons for leaving are not perfectly valid.

Derek P said...

It's very interesting that you claim to know both me and my wife better than we know each other or ourselves.
(No one has said anything about your lovely wife.)

As a student of psychology...
(That's what got you into this mess in the first place! You're "too smart" to accept any wisdom that emanates from anyone but you!)

your responses are not about my issues. You want to make yourself feel better by attacking me.
(Funny that you perceive these perceptions as attacks--must say something about your state of mind.)

indicating to me that you suffer a superiority complex.
(Please--enough of this "I can diagnose your problems because I'm so much smarter than you" isn't that "superiority complex" by definition--just asking!)

I don't blame you, though. If you're LDS, you're brought up to believe in elitism.
(There you go attacking the beliefs of those you "care about" again)

So who is more of a hater?
(I think it is obvous from your responses!)

Eli said...

Response to Derek P: Responses in Order,
Several people have brought up my wife. Take a look.

I'm smart enough to accept the wisdom of people other than church leaders. Give that a try and read something other than your Book of Mormon.

You're saying these responses aren't attacks? What are they? They certainly are not productive, thought-provoking, reasonable, based on facts, addressing the real issues, or even relevant to the topic.

But everyone who reads this blog feels they can diagnose my problems?

I do not throw my beliefs in the face of those I love. Try following the 11th Article of faith. If you don't want to hear my arguments, don't come to this blog.

Which one of us is striving for peace? You have no desire to have an adult conversation about the topics I've raised, you want to call names. I thought we left 3rd grade years ago.

Derek P said...

"I do not throw my beliefs in the face of those I love."
(I'm not sure your family and friends agree with you, assuming they're the ones you refer to as "those I love." You are taking things very sacred to them and trashing them in a public forum--you call that "striving for peace"?)

I originally came here hoping to point out what so many people have already alluded to: while you seem to be getting support from the "anti-LDS wacko" crowd, those that know and love you and your family see something much deeper than the childish list you put up on this blog.

BTW, nice to see you staying above the fray with the 3rd grade comment!

Eli said...

Response to Derek: I've stated before that the other options to this blog were to let everyone just wonder why I made my decision or to contact everyone with my "childish" list. I felt this was a good middle ground. Those who are curious may come and learn, those who do not want to know can stay away.
You really need to stop speaking for my family. I don't know you and you don't know me or my family.
Again, if you have something of substance to say about my list, say it. Tell me that polygamy never happened. Better yet, tell me a reason that it happened. Tell me why God waited until the last possible second to admit that all races are equal. Give me some reason to believe that Joseph Smith translated something, anything. If you want to stick with these character bashings, we both know we will get nowhere, especially because I have no idea who you are and you don't know me but claim to.