Wednesday, April 08, 2015

"Nobody Asked You, Patrice!"

On How I Met Your Mother, Robin has an irrational hatred of her coworker Patrice. Patrice is the sweetest woman ever, always kind and helpful to Robin, but Robin ends up just shrieking, "Nobody ASKED you, Patrice!"

My wife and I can relate. We've felt this way about people in our lives. Growing up, there was a boy in our ward that was my wife's Patrice. She spent a year driving him from Seminary to school, making sure to contradict everything he had to say. She just couldn't handle him saying something that wasn't wrong.

In my family, I'm my dad's Patrice. I mentioned this to my sister once, and she laughed at how inappropriately exact the characterization was.

For my personal morning scripture study, I've been reading the Doctrine and Covenants. A few days ago, I read Section 134. I had a new thought after reading Verse 12.

We believe it just to preach the gospel to the nations of the earth, and warn the righteous to save themselves from the corruption of the world; but we do not believe it right to interfere with bond-servants, neither preach the gospel to, nor baptize them contrary to the will and wish of their masters, nor to meddle with or influence them in the least to cause them to be dissatisfied with their situations in this life, thereby jeopardizing the lives of men; such interference we believe to be unlawful and unjust, and dangerous to the peace of every government allowing human beings to be held in servitude.
My thought was, "Does this explain the LDS Church's acquiescence to government restrictions on proselyting?" Every week here in China, we start sacrament meeting with a reading of the announcement that begins, "It is important for foreign members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints living in or visiting China to be aware of the unique restrictions...." So if we feel bound by the Savior's command to tell the world of His gospel, why do we agree to do absolutely no proselyting ("active or passive") here? Maybe this verse helps make sense of it. As, in 1830s America, it was improper to preach to slaves and thereby create conflict between the wills of their masters and the slaves' consciences, it is improper to preach in 21st-century China for the same reason.

Anyway, I wanted to discuss this idea with friends, so I created a Facebook post so everyone could ignore it and thus help me remember that I don't actually have friends. But not everyone ignored it. When you're someone's Patrice, they can't let anything you say pass without pointing out what's wrong about it.

My dad wrote that Article of Faith 12 is the reason. China says don't do something and we say, "Okay." Which is how most modern members read Article of Faith 12, but which I believe is incorrect. I read D&C 134:5 as contradicting this incorrect reading. The history of the church between Reynolds v. United States (1878) and Official Declaration 1 (1890) is not one that follows this modern reading. Wilford Woodruff didn't write, "Well, the Federales said so," but rather, "God showed me the results and told me to choose."

The confusion comes from an unfortunately misunderstanding of the distinction between "law" and "legislation." Under the common law tradition, law exists or emerges and is not created by man. It can be codified, but not everything codified by the government is law. Legislation is not law. Article of Faith 12 says we believe in obeying the law, not the will of (sometimes unrighteous) legislators.

To help our children understand this point, we recently read a book called The Tuttle Twins Learn About the Law, because I want them to grow up to distrust the state. I shared this link in response to my dad's comment.

My dad replied that Article of Faith 12 is a blanket statement that requires obeisance to any temporal ruler. I asked, "Then why do we celebrate the Founding Fathers, who refused to be subject to their king?" My dad answered, in part, "Because they won." I wrote, "I disagree that the Founders are right only in hindsight." He wrote, "I concur with your assessment. The frame of reference was changed by the Lord saying that they were guided and directed."

"And this is where it ended?" you asked hopefully (in the legitimate sense of the word). No, it's not. Because I have a character flaw. I cannot refuse to speak when someone says something wrong. I have a compulsion to argue against error whenever it arises. I saw in my dad's comment a possible problem, namely, the idea that it is only in light of the Lord vouching for the Founders that we can support their behavior. I wrote back, "No, D&C 134:5 indicates this isn't a Nephi-and-Laban thing. Rebellion is only 'unbecoming' (not even 'wrong') if your government protects you in your rights. Implication: rebellion is fine in the face of tyranny."

I was sharing supporting material for my beliefs, but I was getting no indication that the supporting material was being acknowledged. Instead, I got, "You can find a supporting argument for whatever you want to do. And those arguments can come from the same book (of scripture). John Wilkes Booth thought that he had an answer to tyranny." I wrote back, "I'm glad I wasn't raised by someone so ready to accept moral relativism. Oh, wait.... [winking emoticon]"

And it was the winking emoticon that diffused the situation, through its ambiguity. The wink indicates "someone's being made fun of here," but it's up to the reader to determine who. It could be my dad, the apparent moral relativist, or it could be me, the person who is reading moral relativism into my dad's posts. Both parties get to assume that the butt of the joke is not themselves, so the tension subsides.

But the wink was at my dad.

1 comment:

Alanna said...

I have absolutely nothing to add to your (very interesting) discussion about laws and legislature. I just have to comment that the first part of this post made me realize that my father-in-law is the person I feel a compulsive need to argue with. I had never seen it in those terms before.

I apologized to Craig for this, and he said it was fine, because he felt the same way about his Dad. He said that me always arguing with him made it so he (Craig) didn't have to as much. That's a relief, I guess!