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Where does morality come from? -- Part 3

By John Draper ~

In Part 1 and Part 2, I introduced my premise that morality is discovered by humans, not revealed by God—in particular, not revealed through scripture.

Now, to that Still, Small Voice: personal revelation independent of scripture. Religions allow some latitude for personal revelation—but always within the boundaries of scripture. That is, God would never tell you to do something that He had revealed in His written word to be wrong. You don’t need to wrestle in prayer to determine whether it’s right to jimmy open your neighbor’s marmalade safe. Just put away the crowbar and read your bloody Bible.

What happens is that religious folks use scripture for the Big Questions and leave the mundane matters of living day-to-day life to personal revelation—whom to marry, how to cut our hair, whom to vote for, where to hide your marmalade.

But we all know that God doesn’t speak to us, even on mundane matters. C’mon, be honest. When we rely on personal revelation to decide whom to marry, etc., we’re really just saying that it feels right—not that God actually told us something. How many times when I was Christian did I hear other believers say they were certain they were on God’s predestined path because they just felt “a peace about it”?

However, when the stakes are really high—when it really matters if you’re right or wrong (when, say, you’re deciding whether to snip the red or blue wire going into the bomb)—even this “peace” isn’t good enough. It doesn’t provide us the specifics we need. “Where are you, Oh Lord!” they cry. “Why won’t you speak to me?”

That’s what I’m saying.

A cautionary tale from Planet Mormon

I’m reminded of the story of Spencer Kimball, onetime prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As such, Kimball was God’s mouthpiece—a “special witness of Christ” who was said to converse with the savior as one would talk to one’s shift supervisor at the cranberry plant—amiably but never so amiably as to be anything but obsequious. (Kimball probably laughed too hard at Jesus’ jokes trying to make a good impression, get a leg up. A sober glance from Christ would tell Kimball if he was getting too familiar.) Mormons are very proud that they are a church that rests on Modern-Day Revelation. God still speaks! To Mormons!

How could that not be the case in a religion that was founded by a guy who said he found golden plates from God buried in the hard-packed earth of upstate New York? Modern-day revelation. That’s their shtick. Funny thing, though: The revelations kind of dried up after old Joe Smith was gunned down. In fact, pretty much the only Thus Sayeth The Lord revelations that have surfaced after Brigham Young (who snatched the mantle of prophet from the bullet-ridden body of Smith) have been to reverse revelations from Smith and Young.

First, the church was under tremendous pressure from the federal government to renounce polygamy, and it finally caved, releasing the so-called Manifesto in 1890 swearing off the practice of celestial marriage. (At least on earth, for now. Polygamy is still practiced in heaven. In fact, Heavenly Father has a whole bevy of Godwomen and he copulates nonstop.)

Then, in 1978, the church capitulated again to the federal government—this time for its insistence that black men couldn’t hold the priesthood. I won’t bore you with Mormon doctrine other than to say that this meant black folks couldn’t get into heaven. By the middle of the 20th century, this sounded positively benighted to non-Mormons. Not surprisingly, Jimmy Carter was threatening to take away the church’s tax-exempt protection—and he didn’t get angry too easily. But the priesthood ban was doctrine.

You can see the pinch this put on Kimball, the prophet at the time.

How could he reverse the doctrine without saying the past prophets were wrong? A prophet can’t be wrong, can he? On top of this, it seems that Kimball was personally troubled by the priesthood ban, as well he should be, drawing breath during the second half of the Twentieth Century as he was. Kimball prayed and prayed for Heavenly Father to show him a way out of this pinch.

Nothing. And, remember, this is the prophet we’re talking about. He talks to Christ, according to the Party Line. (The Party Line doesn’t mention all that stuff about Jesus being Kimball’s supervisor at the cranberry plant and such. I just made that up to be clever.)

Finally, at his wit’s end, Kimball struck a bargain with God. Kimball decided that he would reverse the priesthood ban—unless Heavenly Father intervened and told him not to. God was predictably silent, so the church reversed more than 150 years of practice. God’s One True Church decided to treat black men with dignity and fairness 14 years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act.


Why couldn’t Kimball just come before the faithful and say, “Look, folks, I just don’t hear Heavenly Father on this one. I know I’m the prophet and all, but I just don’t feel it. If you ask me, I think we should stop this silly priesthood ban. Isn’t that good enough?”

Because religions don’t do that kind of thing. They’ve fully bought into the myth that God speaks plainly to us.

My point is, why not just give up the pretense that God reveals His moral will to us—through scripture or through our intuition? Let’s accept responsibility for our moral development. Let’s admit when we’re boneheaded. We will find the answers we need by ourselves.