Another scripture with which I have a problem (or maybe again it's just the common reading with which I have the problem) is Moroni 7:6-8.
For behold, God hath said a man being evil cannot do that which is good; for if he offereth a gift, or prayeth unto God, except he shall do it with real intent it profiteth him nothing. For behold, it is not counted unto him for righteousness. For behold, if a man being evil giveth a gift, he doeth it grudgingly; wherefore it is counted unto him the same as if he had retained the gift; wherefore he is counted evil before God.
My first mission president once gave a zone conference talk based on this scripture, the gist of which was, unless we really, truly wanted to be there we were wasting our time and perhaps accruing strikes against ourselves. But is this an accurate reading of this scripture?
Spencer W. Kimball shared this story in a General Conference talk from 1975.
There is the story told of Lord George Hall of an earlier time. It is a mythical story. Believe it or not, but at least take the lesson if you find one there. “Lord George had led an evil life. He had been a drunkard, a gambler, and a cheat in business, and his face reflected the life he had led. It was a very evil face.
One day he fell in love with a simple country girl to whom he proposed marriage. Jenny Mere told him that she could never marry a man whose face was so repulsive and so evil-looking; and also that when she did marry, she wanted a man with a saintlike face, which was the mirror of true love.
Following a custom of the day, Lord George went down to Mr. Aeneas in Bond Street, London. Aeneas made waxen masks for people, and his skill was so art-perfect that the person’s identity was completely hidden. As proof of his skill, it is said that many spendthrift debtors, equipped with his masks, could pass among their creditors unrecognized. Aeneas went to his storeroom, selected a mask, heated it over a lamp, fixed it to Lord George’s face; and when Lord George looked in the glass, he had the face of a saint who loved dearly. So altered was his appearance that Jenny Mere was soon wooed and won.
He bought a little cottage in the country, almost hidden in an arbor of roses, with a tiny garden spot. From then on his entire life changed. He became interested in nature; he found "sermons in stones, books in brooks, and good in everything." Formerly he was blasé and life had no interest for him; now, he was engrossed in kindliness, and the world around him.
He was not content with starting life anew, but tried to make amends for the past. Through a confidential solicitor he restored his ill-gotten gains to those whom he had cheated. Each day brought new refinements to his character, more beautiful thoughts to his soul.
By accident, his former companions discovered his identity. They visited him in his garden, and urged him to return to his old evil life. When he refused, he was attacked, and the mask was torn from his face.
He hung his head. Here was the end of all; here was the end of his newfound life and his love dream. As he stood with bowed head, with the mask at his feet on the grass, his wife rushed across the garden and threw herself on her knees in front of him. When she looked up at him, what do you suppose she found? Lo! Line for line, feature for feature, the face was the same as that of the mask. Lines of beauty—regular features.
Isn't the point of this story that the way to change the heart is to change the behavior and the heart will follow? Isn't this the underlying principle in just about all parenting? You use your position of authority to set your child's behavior with the hope that he will internalize the behavior before he assumes full control of his own agenda.
A quotation of Brigham Young contained in this lesson seems to support the idea of doing something you don't immediately want to do. It is: "It matters not whether you or I feel like praying, when the time comes to pray, pray. If we do not feel like it, we should pray till we do."
I think too many church members interpret the original teaching from Mormon the way my mission president presented it to us, and I think that's wrong. It creates situations where the member says to himself, "I don't want to help that family move, so there's no reason for me to go help that family move; I've already messed it up with the bad desire, and since I will be 'counted evil before God' if I go now, it's best that I stay home."
Last year, Christmas was on Sunday. We attended church, then returned home to open presents. One present we received was The Force Awakens. We were all excited to watch it, but it was Sunday, and in keeping with the ongoing mini-Reformation of how we should honor the Sabbath, we were not going to watch it on Sunday. But to have our behavior "count" as righteous did we need to lie to ourselves about our initial desire to watch it?
I jokingly said to our kids, "Christmas on Sunday is lame!" When I shared that on Facebook, an acquaintance snarkily commented, "And with that attitude, you get the same credit as if you had watched it! Right? Double lame!"
I think this "wanting to do a bad thing is the same as doing the bad thing" interpretation of Moroni 7 is dangerous and wrong. Dangerous because it undermines righteous behavior. Remember your incredulous reaction to the beginning of Dr. Faustus when Faust reasons that, since he's once done at least one thing wrong in his life, he might as well make a pact with the Devil? It's that same specious reasoning that says, "Watch a movie on Sunday if you once wanted to watch a movie on Sunday."
And wrong because I don't believe this is what Mormon is saying. In Verse 10 he writes, "Wherefore, a man being evil cannot do that which is good; neither will he give a good gift." I think the wrong reading of the previous verses would lead us to read this as saying, "Your desires establish that you are evil, and your evil nature removes the goodness from your behavior." I believe the true reading of this should be, "Given that you are giving a good gift, you cannot possibly be evil." The fact that, despite your natural inclinations, you are doing a good thing is the proof that you are not evil. The "real intent" of my Sunday worship had to be there or else I wouldn't have produced the behavior. I didn't accidentally not watch The Force Awakens; I did it with real intent.
"Fake it till you make it" is a true principle and the average Mormon's reading of Moroni 7:6-8 is misguided and damaging.