Monday, November 1, 2010

Da Law

For those of you not into belly-button introspection that involves the people of Ammon, best to skip this entry. And understand I’m just having a dialogue with myself as I try to understand this crazy, mixed-up world we live in, though competing points of view.

Read Alma Chapter 30 this weekend as a family, as part of our regular scripture study. That chapter, which introduces a man named Korihor, who actively preaches that there is no such person or thing as Jesus Christ, contains the following passages:

  7 Now there was no law against a man’s belief; for it was strictly contrary to the commands of God that there should be a law which should bring men on to unequal grounds.
  8 For thus saith the scripture: Choose ye this day, whom ye will serve.
  9 Now if a man desired to serve God, it was his privilege; or rather, if he believed in God it was his privilege to serve him; but if he did not believe in him there was no law to punish him.
  10 But if he murdered he was punished unto death; and if he robbed he was also punished; and if he stole he was also punished; and if he committed adultery he was also punished; yea, for all this wickedness they were punished.
  11 For there was a law that men should be judged according to their crimes. Nevertheless, there was no law against a man’s belief; therefore, a man was punished only for the crimes which he had done; therefore all men were on equal grounds.

So, basically, a form of religious tolerance, if you skip over any religions that believe adultery is acceptable. So far, so good; truthfully, if you can get past any anti-religious bias, you’ve got to think this is a good situation: Don’t believe in God or Jesus, that’s OK. You’re not breaking the law.

Korihor, as is his right, uses the defense provided in the law to preach against Christ. He finds some followers. Then he goes to the land of Jershon, where he encounters a different people, the people of Ammon. These are people who are very stalwart in the faith; so stalwart that they promised never to kill another person, even in their own defense. Thousands of them died when they encountered enemies who had no such restrictions. So they’re faithful. They really believe.

They don’t like what Korihor has to say. So they take him to their local religious leaders, who kicked him out. So, by modern standards of tolerance, not so tolerant.

He then goes to the land of Gideon, where he’s also taken to Giddonah, their religious leader, and another individual, who is their secular leader.

Thus follows an entretemps between Korihor and Giddonah, in which Korihor defends his actions and is taken to Alma, the chiefest of the religious leaders, and also to another, who is the chiefest of the secular leaders. Korihor defends his beliefs and asks for a sign that he is wrong. He gets what he asks for and is “struck dumb,” and is no longer able to speak. He asks Alma to pray to God to remove the judgment, but Alma refuses.

So, why ponder this?

Because I’ve been thinking a lot about things. Trying to figure out how to apply the scriptures to my life, to make them come alive and become more meaningful. I’m also trying to figure out how tolerance – and here I have to use the modern definition, which basically is “a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose beliefs or personal characteristics (race, religion, nationality, etc.), differ from one’s own,” according to Wikipedia.

What does one do, however, when tolerance clashes with belief or personal characteristics? Which gives: the belief, or the tolerance?

As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I face this question. I can think of many moral reasons why homosexual marriage, for example, is incorrect. Should not be tolerated. I cannot, however, conjure up any legal reasons as to why homosexual marriage ought not to be afforded the same rights and protections as heterosexual marriage. I am having a difficult time reconciling the two viewpoints. Which wins here: belief, or tolerance?

Which brings me back to the lands of Jershon and Gideon. The inhabitants of that land did not wish to tolerate Korihor’s beliefs, though there was no law against them. He was taken to leaders fulfilling a dual religious and secular role and met judgment – if you want to believe in such – at the hand of God, not at the hand of society. But in other parts of the land, it appears the inhabitants looked to the law and said, well, there’s nothing we can do. Some listened. Some didn’t listen. But he wasn’t thwarted in any way.

This is the conundrum that those of us on the side of faith face. We know we ought to be tolerant. We look at the laws that, in the past, forbade those of our faith from owning property, sitting on juries, or serving in state legislatures, and we know those laws were wrong. How can we, then, turn around and deny rights to those with whom we have moral disagreements, but not legitimate legal ones? I simply don’t know. Every time I think I’ve arrived at an answer, it slips from my grasp.

So I err – if that’s the right word for it – on the side of tolerance in this issue, and on others. Hate the sin, love the sinner. Do unto others as ye would have done unto you. You know, things that Jesus taught us to do.

But how far does it go? Do I, like Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, see my permissiveness, my tolerance reach a point where it can no longer break – until, at the end, I break it yet again?

Stay tuned.

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