General Counsel and Outliers

Todd Rose starts his book The End of Average off with some really arresting stories that all make the same point: there’s no such thing as an average person. 

His most in-depth example is based on how the Air Force designed their cockpits in World War II and the years immediately following. They took the dimensions of hundreds of pilots (arm reach, chest circumference, leg length, you name it) and then used the average of those measurements as the template for their cockpit design. The idea was that an average-shaped pilot would fit perfectly. And, since most of the pilots would be average on most measurements, the cockpits would be a decent fit for everyone. That was the theory, anyway.

In practice, the Air Force was plagued with accidents that appeared to be related to pilots having a hard time using the controls. A twenty-something scientist named Lieutenant Gilbert S. Daniels had his doubts about the whole underlying theory, so he tested it out:

Using the size data he had gathered from 4,063 pilots, Daniels calculated the average of the ten physical dimensions believed to be most relevant for design, including height, chest circumference, and sleeve length. These formed the dimensions of the “average pilot,” which Daniels generously defined as someone whose measurements were within the middle 30 percent of the range of values for each dimension. So, for example, even though the precise average height from the data was five foot seven and a half inches, he defined the height of the “average pilot” as ranging from five seven to five eight. Next, Daniels compared each individual, one by one, to the average pilot.

Everyone expected that a lot of the pilots would match up closely to the “average pilot”, but the actual number out of the 4,063 who fell within the 30% range on all ten dimensions was… zero. 

Nobody was average. Not a single person. 

Rose has more examples like that, such as “Norma,” a statue created by averaging physical dimensions of a large number of women. In a contest to see which lucky woman could match Norma’s nine dimensions (this was in 1945) it turned out that nobody could. Only 40 of 3,864 entrants came close on five out of the nine dimensions used to define Norma and nobody matched on all nine. 

Reading this reminded me of an important quote from Elder Oaks that I’ve cited before: 

As a General Authority, it is my responsibility to preach general principles. When I do, I don’t try to define all the exceptions. There are exceptions to some rules. For example, we believe the commandment is not violated by killing pursuant to a lawful order in an armed conflict. But don’t ask me to give an opinion on your exception. I only teach the general rules. Whether an exception applies to you is your responsibility. You must work that out individually between you and the Lord. (From a CES Fireside on May 1, 2005 in Oakland, CA)

It got me thinking that maybe we Latter-day Saints have in mind an image of an “average Saint” that’s just unrealistic in the same way that Norma or the average Air Force pilot failed to correlate to any real, live human beings. I decided to run a few simulations as a fun thought experiment. (If I wasn’t rusty and lazy I’d have  actually worked out the math, but… eh. Computers are fast.)

For starters, let’s say that the General Authorities give general counsel on twenty different topics. My question is: how many Saints would you expect to be exceptions at least one of these topics?

The variable here is the applicability of the counsel. So I ran a few really basic simulations with 10,000,000 iterations (please don’t make fun of me; I said I was lazy) of twenty topics assuming that the counsel for each topic applied 75%, 85%, 90%, 95%, and 99% of the time. Here’s what that looks like: 

Now, please keep in mind this is basically bar-napkin analysis purely for the purposes of spurring conversation. Nobody get all mad at me that my assumptions (e.g. independence of GA counsel) are unrealistic. 

With that disclaimer, here are a couple of general observations:

  • In every case except where the counsel applied 99% of the time, the most common segment of Latter-day Saints had at least one topic for which they were an exceptional case. 
  • Even on the opposite extreme, where counsel applied just 75% of the time, the vast majority of Latter-Day Saints were not exceptions to most rules. 

In other words, if General Authority counsel is applicable about 75% – 95% of the time (and if there are about 20 topics) then you’re going to find that the counsel applies to most Latter-day Saints most of the time, but that very, very few Latter-day Saints will have no exceptions at all. I think the range is (again, for bar-napkin math) not too bad. As long as you assume that the General Authorities are inspired men with both a lot of spiritual wisdom and access to generally applicable revelation, you have to presume that their counsel is significantly more applicable than 50%. But as long as you take Elder Oaks seriously, it’s also less than 100%. 

In that world, a typical Latter-day Saint is going to deviate from the general counsel on one or more topics.

At least, if there are about 20 topics. What if we fix the probability (say, at 90%) and then vary the number of topics? What happens to the number of Latter-day Saints who have at least one exceptional case as the number of topics varies?

This chart shows how the number of stereotypes (people who have a perfect match with general counsel) and exceptions (people who have at least one exceptional case) vary as the number of topics goes from 5 to 100 (with the probability of any given counsel applying staying constant at 90%.

The gist of this chart is that stereotypes will only be more common if the number of topics is very, very small. At 5 topics, 59% of the population matches every single one and 41% have at least one exception, but at 10 topics only 35% match on every single one (65% have at least one exception) and by the time you get to 50 topics practically nobody (0.5% for 50, 0.003% for 100) is a stereotype. 

This is interesting, because if the General Authorities are concerned with conserving institutional authority (which they naturally should be) then it provides a strong incentive for them to restrict their general counsel to a narrow range of topics. Even if any given piece of counsel applies to 90%, the more topics they cover the more often people find themselves (or their friends and family) to be exceptional on some of those topics. It’s an interesting glimpse into the incentives and tradeoffs that General Authorities have to make, which is something I think ordinary members rarely take into account when we’re thinking about what the General Authorities tell us and why.

So here are my basic conclusions and some additional caveats.

First, this whole post is about general counsel. Nothing here applies to commandments. I get that–as with the policy vs. doctrine divide–the line between counsel and commandment may be blurry in some cases. Fair enough, but the principle remains: when the general authorities deliver a commandment that’s no time to go looking for exceptions. 

Second, I do not believe–stereotypes of TBMs notwithstanding–that the Church has ever suffered from a surfeit of obedience. If you use this post as an excuse to dodge counsel that your conscience, common sense, and/or the Spirit say should apply to you, don’t blame me. That’s not why I wrote this.

Third, one thing I think is important as we consider this is that when we genuinely and sincerely believe we’re in one of those exceptional cases, we should not feel guilty or ashamed about it. And, what’s more, when we see someone else not following general counsel we should not rush to judge them. As a general rule, just about everyone is going to have at least one exception in their life, and it’s not up to use to police those.

That’s really why I wrote this. 

We live in a world that is not appreciative of moral nuance. All around us, the moral foundations of our society are dissolving in the acid of over-simplified rational analysis. Philosophers act like the Trolly Problem reveals something fundamentally silly or broken or at least irrational about human moral intuitions when all it really shows–if you ask me–is that human moral intuition is a very, very complex and sensitive instrument and when you remove it from realistic situations it stops working. That doesn’t mean it’s broken, any more than shooting a laser into the James Webb Space Telescope until its internal components melt would prove that it’s bad at collecting photons.

The practical upside? The dense tapestry of individual, familial, social, and abstract moral considerations that used to play a role in sexual ethics has been reduced–as far as the world is concerned–to consent. That’s it. The alpha and omega governing principle for some of the most complex, sensitive, and important human relationships has been reduced to a moral framework that would comfortably fit in a single tweet.

In this brave new world, trying to propound general counsel that is good, wise, and broadly applicable while also propounding that we should be non-judgmental and accepting of the outliers just gets you blank looks. Instead of allowing for exceptional cases, the imperative to simplify and streamline our moral universe leads to discarding any general principle that has exceptions… or any ideal that can’t be realized. Better to dispense with the general than risk harming the exception.

But there is another way. Instead of getting shallower, we can get deeper. Hold onto the the general principles while adding a greater appreciation for the fact that many and probably most of us will fall outside at least a couple of them. 

This post is not a call to listen to the General Authorities less. It’s a call to listen to them more, but then be a bit more thoughtful in our application of what we hear.

22 comments for “General Counsel and Outliers

  1. November 6, 2019 at 9:47 pm

    I agree. And it’s also possible to recognize that you, personally, have some exceptional circumstances, and to take responsibility for your exceptionality, while still affirming the general validity of the counsel. Like if you currently have to work Sundays, you don’t have to be upset that general authorities keep preaching about keeping the Sabbath holy, and in fact you can even affirm how important it is as a general principle, even if you have to find alternate ways to honor it.

  2. Carey F.
    November 6, 2019 at 10:13 pm

    Overall I agree but the example from Oaks literally uses the most basic capital-C commandments to illustrate this point so that seems to at least complicate if not contradict your claim that “nothing here applies to commandments”.

  3. GEOFF -AUS
    November 7, 2019 at 3:56 am

    If only Pres Oaks could apply this general principle to his obsession with other people (especially gay people) sex lives. If he could just tell us that chastity is to only have sex with the person you are married to.

  4. Jon Miranda
    November 7, 2019 at 11:33 am

    Geoff aus
    U have clearly forgotten about speaking ill of the Lord’s anointed

  5. Old Man
    November 7, 2019 at 1:44 pm

    Geoff – AUS,
    Elder Oaks’ standard is high. But Jesus taught a much higher standard. Lusting after another in one’s heart even while not acting on the impulse is sinful according to Jesus’ standard. How do you think today’s gay (and straight) people deal with that one? An admonition to control both one’s behaviors and even one’s thoughts? Will gay and straight people embrace this teaching of Jesus any more warmly than the teaching of President Oaks which is so criticized?

  6. Nate GT
    November 7, 2019 at 4:21 pm

    When looking at height and weight in a sample size of 4,000, we’re going to find averages and medians. Current airplane design is based on such statistics. Now if you say that average height is exactly 1,775 millimeters and out of the 4,000 people you measured, no one came within a millimeter of 1,775, it is fallacious to say on that basis, “there is no such thing as an average person.” We can with confidence locate people’s weight and height on a Bell Curve of percentiles. And average can be taken to mean falling within the high middle range of the curve.

    Second, I take issue with the idea that people are just too complex to place into any sort of category or identify any trends among them. We benefit people by coming up with categories that we can place them under. The whole of modern medicine is founded on trends and statistics. Yet no one frailty is exactly like another’s. Each frailty is unique. But there are enough similarities among frailties that we can make good faith efforts to develop blanket diagnoses and treatments. Our understanding of medicine is imperfect and will always be. Medicine has over the years branched out into all sorts of different specializations. But we know a heck of a lot more about medicine and improving and lengthening the physical lives of people in general than we did 100 years ago. So to just throw our hands in the air and say, “we don’t know, there’s too much nuance” is irresponsible. We need to go out on limbs, take risks, and try to figure out categories and trends, realizing that we may have to hedge or expand what we thought was the category in question. Same goes for psychology. Let’s not throw out DSM-5, the Diagnosis and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, just because people are just too complex and there is simply too much nuance. Let’s trust that DSM-5 is generally correct, but allow for new findings and ideas that would cause us to revise the manual, and that the process of revision will be never-ending since people’s understandings of what is diagnosable evolves overtime. Still, extreme relativism is and always has been wrong and irresponsible.

    I find it interesting that you think that we “live in a world that is not appreciative of moral nuance.” Just the US alone is teeming with all sorts of different cultures and belief system replete with nuances in their own rights. We live in a world where people’s understandings of right and wrong (morality) differ greatly. And yet, we can still identify trends and do statistical studies to see what percentage of Americans think x behavior is right or y behavior is wrong, which like about everything else will evolve and change.

    “In this brave new world, trying to propound general counsel that is good, wise, and broadly applicable while also propounding that we should be non-judgmental and accepting of the outliers just gets you blank looks.”

    Just look at attitudes and mores about sexuality in the US. More and more people, particularly young folks, are accepting the idea of increasing nuance when it comes to sexual orientation and gender identity. More and more there is insistence that we do not immediately place people into categories or stereotype them or judge them according to how they identify themselves.

    So I get the gist of what you’re saying and can agree in part, but I think there are some nuances (irony intended) you’re not considering.

  7. Jonathan
    November 7, 2019 at 8:14 pm

    There is, in my opinion, a big difference between reasoning to the conclusion that you are the exception to the rule and having the Spirit tell you that you are the exception to the rule. When David reasoned that sending Bathsheba’s husband to the front line was a good idea, would resolve his issues, and wasn’t technically against the commandment it ended in catastrophe. When Nephi was told by the Spirit to kill Laban, he was right to do so.

    So yes, the commandments, policies, and so forth are not universal. But unless God tells you differently, you follow them. And, just as importantly, if He tells you differently He is telling YOU differently — He is not inviting you to hop online and condemn the people the Lord has chosen to rule his Church of “obsession with other people (especially gay people) sex lives.” That doesn’t come from God — His House is a House of order and He isn’t going to reveal changes applicable to the entire Church and world through some random person (regardless of their delusions of grandeur). At best they are steadying the ark (leading to their destruction) and at worst they are actively working against the Kingdom of God (leading to their destruction). There is no win condition.

    Nope, kicking against the pricks only comes when people put their own wills and wants above and before the Lord. If someone tells me that they have their own truth, or that a commandment doesn’t apply generally, you can usually predict where that is going to end up (see, sadly, dozens and dozens of examples) — that person ultimately abandoning the faith and, usually, faith altogether. But when a person tells me that the Spirit tells them to do something differently, I have nothing to say about that and it is between them and their God.

  8. Wondering
    November 8, 2019 at 6:34 am

    Jonathan, maybe it’s only the tone I imagined in Geoff-Aus’ comment and the tone I imagine in your second paragraph, but it seemed to me on first and repeated reading that Geoff-Aus’ comment was an expression of desire with no element of condemnation while yours (penultimate sentence of second paragraph) suggests condemnation of Geoff-Aus. I guess you didn’t like his word “obsession” applied to President Oaks, but don’t we all have some topics we return to again and again? Maybe “obsession” is a bit strong (maybe not), but I can’t see it as condemnation.

    But, yes, there is “a big difference between reasoning to the conclusion that you are the exception to the rule and having the Spirit tell you that you are the exception to the rule.” Unfortunately for many, at least, their perception of the Spirit telling them something may be inextricably tied up with their “reasoning.” Do you think the people the Lord has chosen to rule his Church are entirely exempt from that problem? from the influence of their cultural and personally preconceived notions?

  9. Jonathan
    November 8, 2019 at 9:43 am

    @Wondering:

    If you read my comment, you will see that it doesn’t matter if Geoff’s comment is perfectly motivated or whether it is evil speaking of the Lord’s anointed (I don’t presume his intent) — either way, it ends badly.

    In fact, that is a big portion of my comment — what you specifically point to as condemnation is the conclusion of an argument that Geoff’s behavior is heading to a bad place. It isn’t me condemning him, but rather me pointing out that regardless of his motivations (even if your interpretation of his comments are right) he has taken a path that leads to condemnation. He is either getting well beyond his skis, posting online frustration with the ones chosen by God to lead His Church, and expressing his desire that things change to match his opinion in an area where he has zero stewardship (steadying the ark) or, if his motivations are less altruistic, something even worse. Steadying the ark isn’t just a problem when the ark doesn’t need steadying — it leads to death even when the ark is tipping over. There are examples within my lifetime of people who tried to steady the ark for the best of reasons and end up in some pretty horrific places.

    So if you are inferring that I am condemning Geoff, you are going too far — I don’t know him and wouldn’t be able to pick him out if we shared a cab tomorrow. What Geoff chooses to do with his life and time has such little marginal impact on my life as to approach zero. But he is on a road that leads to misery, regardless of his intentions, because saying the things that he said…well, maybe if you don’t believe me you would believe Joseph Smith:

    “I will give you one of the Keys of the mysteries of the Kingdom. It is an eternal principle, that has existed with God from all eternity: That man who rises up to condemn others, finding fault with the Church, saying that they are out of the way, while he himself is righteous, then know assuredly, that that man is in the high road to apostasy; and if he does not repent, will apostatize, as God lives.”

    In my experience I haven’t known anyone who has said “The Church is true but the Prophet is wrong on this issue” who didn’t, in time, kick themselves out of the Church and fill their lives with darkness. Whether we are talking popular figures like Sonia Johnson or countless individuals I have known over the years personally. What Geoff is doing has an unhappy ending — not because President Oaks (or me or anyone else) is writing that ending but rather because that is the end of the road Geoff is walking down.

    As to your comments on whether our leaders make mistakes or come to conclusions based upon their reason and culture — of course they do. But do you think God is sitting in Heaven thinking, “I really thought President Oaks would have been more of an ally for the LGBTQ+ community?” Of course not — the Lord knew who He was calling when He called all of our leaders. So mistakes, when they happen, are baked into the cake. Just like the Lord knew that the people He called to carry the ark might stumble, He knows that the people He calls to lead His Church will stumble — but if He needed Geoff to set them straight He would have called Geoff to set them straight.

    So instead of rationalizing against any result we don’t like by attributing it to culture or reasoning, we follow unless the Lord tells us otherwise. And He may tell us otherwise — Elder McConkie’s son was told by God that the blacks would receive the Priesthood while his father was saying that they would not. But God told HIM — not the world through him. So Brother McConkie wrote it in his journal and waited for God to do His work His way. There were those around Brother McConkie — many of whom were ultimately right in the result — who left the Church over this issue and put their salvation in jeopardy (and many didn’t come back after 1978). Putting their own reasoning in front of the Lord’s chosen, or even projecting out what might have been personal revelation onto the entire Church, ended badly for them as they cut themselves off. It always does.

  10. Wondering
    November 8, 2019 at 11:08 am

    Thanks, Jonathan, I think I understand your comment better now. Our experiences and observations differ. I have known people who have said (though usually not publicly) “The Church is true but the Prophet is wrong on this issue” whose lives are not filled with darkness, some have kicked themselves out of the Church and and some have not. So I can’t agree that “it always does” but would agree that it often does.

  11. kevinf
    November 8, 2019 at 11:39 am

    Jonathan:

    “I haven’t known anyone who has said “The Church is true but the Prophet is wrong on this issue” who didn’t, in time, kick themselves out of the Church and fill their lives with darkness.”

    Small circle of friends, apparently. I agree that there is a difference of authority in the revelation we receive as individuals as opposed to those received by the president of the Church. You could easily say that Elder McConkie was doing the same thing when he continued to say that the Priesthood/Temple ban would never change, while President Kimball was working himself to exhaustion seeking revelation that the policy should end. From a historical perspective, there are multiple occasions where we can look back and say that “The Church [was] true but the Prophet [was] wrong” proved to be the case indeed.

    For those of us who do struggle with the exceptions, perhaps the norm is as Peter told the Savior when he was asked “Will ye also go away? Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.” (John 6:67-68) There are still far more reasons for me to stay than there are exceptions to lead me to leave.

  12. Anna
    November 8, 2019 at 2:03 pm

    I have been waiting for someone to give an example, but so far every one seems to be very much into the theory of this question. But I find theory as unhelpful as the generalizations often handed down by church leaders. So, let me give an example often discussed on feminist blogs. The church advises against women with children working outside of the home. But many women find this doesn’t work well for them. So, how do you know you are the exception? Most women are trying to follow the prophet, and the answer to do “I NEED to work outside my home?” is not always black or white. A divorcee probably needs to work outside the home. OK, she can do so without guilt. But most of the rest of women with children could possibly maybe stay home full time. But some of them the struggle financially is just too much. My own mother sometimes did and sometimes didn’t. Financially, when she wasn’t working was a struggle to the point that I remember going hungry. Was she the exception? My ward sure didn’t think so back in the 60s as she was socially ostracized for working outside the home? Most women of my generation felt a lot of guilt about working outside the home because even though they felt they needed to, the church said they should not.

    It is not a commandment that mother’s should not work outside the home. It is a 1950’s political position that the church adopted. So, just how does one go about deciding they are the exception and not be drowned by guilt?

  13. Jonathan
    November 8, 2019 at 3:30 pm

    @Wondering:

    “I have known people who have said (though usually not publicly)”

    Publicly is the key. I know people who have said, correctly or incorrectly, that the Prophet is wrong publicly — it ends badly. I also know people who have said, correctly or incorrectly, that the Prophet is wrong to themselves while they either follow his direction or receive revelation for themselves. I’ve known people at great person cost who have known the Prophet was wrong and followed him anyhow — only to find that years later, even though he was wrong, the act of following blessed their lives in ways they couldn’t imagine. These are, now, some of the strongest people I know. I wonder how your breakdown of those who ended in darkness and those who didn’t would come out if filtered for this variable of publicly versus not publicly speaking.

    @kevinf:

    Not a lot that I disagree with in your post. The Church is true and the Prophet has been wrong in the past (heck, going back to Old Testament times we have the prophets being wrong). In fact, our canon talks about Church leaders being wrong (see, e.g., Doctrine and Covenants 74:5). But even if the Church was wrong on blacks and the priesthood (and I will say that isn’t obvious to me, based upon the experience of President McKay, at least as of the 1960s-1970s), someone who ordained a black man as an Elder in 1975 was heading out the door of the Church — even if he knew through revelation the changes coming only a few short years later. Following mortal leaders invariably means following people who are wrong and trusting the Lord also means trusting who He chooses to run His Church. He’s in charge and He can enact whatever change He needs when He sees fit.

    But absolutely, I couldn’t agree more about your approach — “to whom shall we go” — and all the credit in the world to anyone taking that route while struggling with anything. That approach tends to lead to a positive place.

    @Anna:

    My approach would be to take the matter to the Lord. If the Lord says He wants you to work outside of the home or even if He says He is fine with you working outside the home, then do it. Be careful, of course, whenever getting revelation that agrees with what you want (so you don’t fool yourself) but once you have that revelation follow it before you follow family, friends, the Church, online blogs, or anything else. If, on the other hand, the Lord says no (or remains silent), follow the general principle — if you are an exception, He can let you know.

    That puts you in a position where He is magnifying whatever you do. If you don’t go to work to be obedient, then you can count on the Lord to step in and help along the way and you can take things to Him with confidence. If you do go to work, you can count on the Lord to step in and help with other responsibilities and to magnify your efforts at home during the time you are there. Instead of being at work and thinking of home and/or being at home and thinking of work you can trust that you are where you need to be and the Lord is in charge of the other when you are away. And if you get the revelation to work, then you work regardless of whatever anyone is saying to you — but you also recognize that is guidance to you personally and not instruction to be applied to your Ward, community, country or the world at large.

  14. Wondering
    November 8, 2019 at 5:50 pm

    Well, Jonathan, “publicly” is not a single thing; there are varying degrees, styles and purposes.
    Some of the people I know have been “public” by posting on blogs, some with their own names, some not quite so public about identity. Of those, some remain active in the Church and in significant leadership callings, some have discontinued any or significant participation, some have had their names taken off the rolls of the Church. There are some in each of those categories who are certainly not filled with darkness. None of those I know personally, however, were actively leading a public campaign against the Church or its practices. But I do have minor acquaintance with a few who could be seen that way by some who are now out of the Church and whose lives are definitely not filled with darkness. I guess you don’t know those people or what you see as darkness may not be the same as what they or I perceive. Some I know have returned to the Church; I don’t think that could happen if they were in fact filled with darkness. Something let some light in. Sometimes, it seems, the light was there the whole time.
    I suspect I’m less inclined than some to announce general principles purportedly applicable to all.

  15. Anna
    November 8, 2019 at 11:44 pm

    Jonathan, sorry, but “just have faith” doesn’t cut it. If I pray about something, I know how easy it is to fool myself into hearing exactly what I want. Or, of being so afraid of talking myself into hearing exactly what I want that I hear nothing, or the majority of the time, when God just kind of leaves us to figure it out for ourselves. Then end up feeling like I am just not special enough to be the exception so feel terribly guilty.

    And to the idea that if we do as the Lord wants, he will magically step in and cover for us, obviously you haven’t read the scripture where it says that God causes it to rain on the just and the unjust nor have you ever read the book of Job, or simply have the kind of naive faith of those whose faith has never been tested.

    And of women I know, most did work when they had small children, so is the majority the exception, or are church leaders simply spouting their 1950’s opinion. Most families cannot survive in today’s world on one income. So, most women are now the exception, or we simply have old fashioned prophets.

    It is just not as easy as you pretend.

  16. Jonathan
    November 9, 2019 at 2:06 am

    @Wonder:

    “I suspect I’m less inclined than some to announce general principles purportedly applicable to all.”

    Hey, there could be exceptions. The Lord will do His own work, and no one is outside of His reach. Even the Joseph Smith quote included the caveat “if he does not repent.” I am certainly not closing the door on anyone — I have no desire to do so and lack the capacity even if I could. But, contrary to some suggestions, the sample size I am working from is not small and the principle has been sadly uniform in its application in my experience.

    If your mileage varies, then good — more people saved is a good thing. But I will still be pretty vocal about the risks of publicly speaking out in the hopes of helping someone somewhere avoid a catastrophic result.

    @Anna:

    “It is just not as easy as you pretend.”

    At no point did I say it was easy. It is simple, but it is certainly not easy. I’ve never understood this argument that it is claimed to be easy to listen to the Lord and follow that counsel — that is almost never, ever easy. Usually it is far harder than the convenient path or the path I reason to or the path I want to take.

    “And to the idea that if we do as the Lord wants, he will magically step in and cover for us, obviously you haven’t read the scripture where it says that God causes it to rain on the just and the unjust nor have you ever read the book of Job, or simply have the kind of naive faith of those whose faith has never been tested.”

    Nor did I say that God would magically swoop in and fix everything. I said He would help and would magnify our efforts and take care of things. But following the Lord doesn’t lead to roses and picnics — often following the Lord leads to a far more difficult road. But there is confidence in knowing that the road you are walking on is the right one. The Lord didn’t take Joseph out of Liberty, nor did He protect him from being martyred. But following revelation, in the end, was the right thing for Joseph (and for each of us).

    As for your statement of naive faith — well that might be true if I was legitimately talking about God as if He were a magical vending machine. But He (obviously) isn’t.

    “And of women I know, most did work when they had small children, so is the majority the exception, or are church leaders simply spouting their 1950’s opinion. Most families cannot survive in today’s world on one income. So, most women are now the exception, or we simply have old fashioned prophets.”

    This reads as hostile and leads me to think that your question wasn’t as innocuous as originally presented (“old fashioned” and [particularly] “spouting” are giveaways as to intent). But ultimately your intent is irrelevant — the pattern is the correct one regardless. And to the extent the issue is recognizing the will of the Lord then (a) you are in good company, because we are all there to a greater or lesser extent; and (b) that is a precursor issue that needs attention and your capacity to receive that personal revelation matters far more than whether or not you are working. It is ultimately more important to have that line of communication open than it is to reason your way through any particular problem. My subjective opinion is that oftentimes what I learn about revelation through experiencing that revelation is oftentimes of more value to me than the subject matter of the revelation I actually receive.

    “Jonathan, sorry, but “just have faith” doesn’t cut it.”

    Depends on what you mean by “cut it.” Faith won’t necessarily get the rent paid or the science fair project the kid brings home at the last minute done. But faith will keep you in line with God’s Perfect Plan and take you squarely into ‘all things working together for your good’ category — which is a great place to be even when life is supremely hard. And, when we follow His directly, He can make up whatever difference there is. So yeah, just have faith does cut it.

  17. Wondering
    November 9, 2019 at 7:04 am

    D&C 9 on reasoning, i.e. studying it out (at least for Oliver’s translation effort):

    8 But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.

    9 But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong; therefore, you cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me.

    This is often cited as if applicable to all in other circumstances. However, there are those who in faith seek such confirmation and never have any result they could call a burning in the bosom and also never have a stupor of thought causing them to forget what they reasoned out. (At least some of these same people have had other kinds of experience with revelation.) Perhaps they have no better option that to proceed with what they have reasoned out.

    Yes, I know DHO has taught “The burning of the bosom, I suggest, is not a feeling of caloric heat like combustion but a feeling of peace and warmth and serenity and goodness.” There are times when that is a natural result of reasoning it out and is not recognizable as coming from the Lord. There are times when circumstances require action before that feeling arrives, if ever. After all, DHO also taught “the Lord will speak to us in His own time and in His own way.” Sometimes that is after acting on one’s reasoning; for some it seems it is not in this life at all.

    I suppose Jonathan’s sample may be a broad sample of a narrow range of results. Mine may be a more narrow sample of a very broad range of results. No objection here to being “vocal about the risks of publicly speaking out in the hopes of helping someone somewhere avoid a catastrophic result.” But in my limited experience, doing so in the manner I’ve read here has been more likely to drive people out that to help them avoid any catastrophic result. Isn’t the world wonderfully varied?!

  18. November 9, 2019 at 1:48 pm

    Nate GT-

    If you pick a very small number of attributes the validity of an “average” becomes more realistic. For large populations that are normally distributed not only does the representative average exist (if you’re looking at just one metric) but it is, in fact, where most members of the population cluster. That’s true, but it’s also boring and irrelevant. The interesting question is whether or not that intuition about most people being more-or-less average holds up with more complicated situations where you’ve got 10 or more metrics. In those cases: it often doesn’t. That’s counter-intuitive and interesting.

    Nor am I saying “we don’t know, there’s too much nuance.” I’m a data analyst. I literally do this for a living. I understand all kinds of interesting ways of segmenting populations using various algorithms and metrics. So what? My piece didn’t say, “Hey, our intuition about average people is wrong, so I guess we should all go home.” It said, “Hey, our intuition about average people is wrong, here’s one (among many, many) possible consequences of that.”

    Honestly, I just have no idea where most of your reply is coming from.

    Last thing:

    More and more people, particularly young folks, are accepting the idea of increasing nuance when it comes to sexual orientation and gender identity

    That’s the narrative, but I find it not only to be wrong but diametrically opposed to the truth. There is nothing “nuanced” about the contemporary direction of sexual and gender politics. It is reductive and simplistic to the point of being literally incoherent. As I stated above: consent is basically all that matters any more with maybe some vestigial concerns about power differentials. All of the multi-faceted considerations that made nuance possible in the past–honor, duty, social expectation, tradition, community–have been discarded. Philosophically, modern sexual / gender ethics is barren, featureless wasteland. It’s like the heat death of the universe over there: just a vast undifferentiated expanse off nothingness. Not only is there nuance happening, there isn’t even any possibility of it happening.

    In fact, nuance is explicitly and directly *expunged* from discourse around this. Are members of the LGBTQ community “born this way” and that’s the end of it, or is there some kind of complicated, ambiguous (dare I say: nuanced!) interconnection between identity, genetics, upbringing, and choice? The few LGBTQ thinkers (mostly from older generations) who emphasize choice–and thus complexity and nuance–are being marginalized. The “born this way” mantra is radically anti-nuanced, but it fits in a pop song and makes a great slogan so that’s what we’re going with. If it decimates any potential for rich or interesting discourse: so much the better. The modern LGBTQ movement is geared for rhetorical warfare, not conversation.

    The only reason there’s any kind of an illusion of nuance or diversity is that the task of dismantling the last remaining holdouts from traditional culture requires some creative work, although this work is entirely centered on how to destroy rather than create. Once it goes, it will be impossible to deny that the entire project was nothing but a bulldozer flattening an entire ecosystem but it will be too late for anyone to do anything about it at that point.

  19. November 9, 2019 at 2:03 pm

    Anna-

    Your example–women working outside the home–is the exact example I had in mind as I wrote this. I didn’t include it primarily because I couldn’t think of any other examples to go along with it.

    I do think you’re being too harsh on the brethren. The teaching that women should–as a general rule–stay at home may be an expression of a 1950s era tradition, but the idea of sexually dimorphous roles for women and men vis-a-vis childrearing is (literally) a social universal. All societies everywhere divide how men and women divide household duties and assign women more child-centric roles. What this looks like varies, but the underlying principle does not.

    The single-earner model is increasingly hard for Westerners to maintain. It’s hard on both women and men. On women because the capitalist economy is hungry for more labor, and packaging up (generally banal, soulless) work as a “career” that offers some kind of radical feminist empowerment is a great way to entice more women into the labor pool and suppress wages and goose output. It’s either a fairytale (fulfill yourself through a career! yeah, right) or a guilt trip (you’re letting down your sex if you don’t get a job and prove women can do it), and it’s in tension with the guilt from the other side (your kids need you). It’s an awful predicament.

    As usual (just ask Brene Brown) the male side of the coin is also rather depressing but is much, much simpler. We don’t have a tangled web of irreconcilable obligations. We have just one: go out and earn enough on your own to provide a middle-class lifestyle for your family in a 2-income world. This has its own set of costs for men.

    So, I’m going to double down on the idea that there is a principle behind the prophetic counsel about women not working full-time that is valid and real. I believe that.

    But I’m *also* going to affirm what you’re saying that this is a prime example of where there are exceptions. Not just individually (full disclosure: my wife is a full-time, tenure track college professor, so our family is an exception) but potentially socially. In the 1950s – 1980s, the admonition to take care of your kids translated to “don’t work full-time”. Will it morph in the 2000s? Probably. Into what? Not sure. But the principle that the Church is invested in here is the strengthening of families. That’s the constant. How that works out in practice? Subject to change.

    I’m not sure how to help you deal with the guilt you (and others) feel as you make the decision. From my perspective, if you’re sincerely doing your best to follow the counsel and do what’s best for your family, then you have nothing to feel guilty about. Even if you get it wrong.

    Guilt isn’t the price for imperfection or we’d all be guilty all the time. Guilt is your heart telling you that you know you could do better. If you don’t know what to do and if you don’t have the ability to do it, then what you feel isn’t good, healthy guilt. It’s toxic, unhealthy shame.

    I’m not the best person to tell you how to deal with that, but I think Brene Brown makes some great points and she speaks to a lot of people very powerfully.

    I wish you the best in your journey, and hope you can find a way to discover peace in doing your sincere best, which is all any of us can ever do.

  20. Anna
    November 9, 2019 at 4:40 pm

    Nathanial, personally, I am retired, and my children all flown the nest, so, this specific “am I an exception” is just an interesting discussion and not a personal dilemma, other wise I wouldn’t have time to spent on the internet.

    But your reply triggered a thought. I was a stay at home mom more than a working mom because I do think it is important for children to have the stability. So, I don’t feel the advice is wrong from the standpoint of what is good for the children.

    But there are two other considerations. There is the practical application. Can the family afford it? Part time jobs are hard to come by and don’t pay well. Neither does selling Tupperware. Then there is what is good for women. It is also important for women to have something for intellectual challenge, and socialization, and a sense of accomplishment which staying home all day with small children doesn’t provide. Then there is the problem of what happens to full time homemakers if there is a divorce or husband’s death. She has no work experience and her skills from before marriage are outdated. She is in a bad position to take over support of the family.

    So, no matter what she does there is a problem. Now you seem to be aware of all of the above.

    But I kept feeling like the conversation is missing something. “Pray about it and follow your answer from the Lord” works for men, or at least it works for men like Jonathan above. And they can’t imagine that it really does not work for some people. But it doesn’t solve the guilt many women feel when they do that. They can know that for them, they need to work outside of the home, yet often feel terrible guilt about it, or that it was the right choice to stop work, yet still feel torn and guilty.

    Women are socialized to internalize things more than men. They are taught to blame themselves and doubt their decisions, and because of how women are treated in the church, especially spiritual things. So, the working mother blames herself when Johnny is having trouble in school and feels guilty about working. The stay at home mom blames herself for staying home when they can’t afford piano lessons for Johnny. No matter how much she prays about it, she still questions her answer because when she was primary president, no matter how many names she turned in, no matter how hard she prayed about her counselors or teachers, every time the bishop told her no, until she just asked him to giver her a list of people she could pick from and he essentially filled all the callings without her input. She gets taught by the church not to trust her own answers to prayers. So, no matter what she ends up doing in her personal life, she is always second guessing and doubting, and feeling guilty for getting it wrong. If you listen to the talks given to women by our GAs, they spend a lot of time telling women how to be women, as if they have any experience being women. So, women end up doubting they even know how to be women.

    So, it really isn’t a problem that the church teaches an ideal and leaves it up to us to determine if we are the exception, the problem is how women are socialized to doubt themselves and blame themselves, both in the church and larger society. Determining if you are an exception to the rule only works if you have a lot of self confidence and very little guilt, which get pounded out of too many women.

    Personally, I was 60 before I could trust my own answers from God above what bishops and stake presidents insisted on. So, now, I know I am an exception on one of the church rules, and I simply don’t care about their judgements. I am straight with God, and if they don’t like it, they can take it up with God.

    But it was so hard and so painful to get there, which is why I was kind of asking how do we do this and saying it isn’t that simple.

  21. Faith
    November 10, 2019 at 3:19 am

    I want to share something i learned about ” speaking evil of the lords annointed”.

    If we have been endowed in the LDS temple we have been annointed. So we need to stop LDS leader worship. When bishops, mission presidents, stake presidents, and general authorities gossip and think ill will of the annointed, they are in error.

    Please nelson oaks and bednar. Stop speaking ill of the lords annointed.

  22. November 12, 2019 at 7:57 pm

    I’m 74, I’ve heard all kinds of council from Church leaders:

    Pay tithing first, before anything else.
    Pay tithing and good things will happen to you
    Avoid the appearance of evil, no decaf, no near beer, no Coke
    No birth control
    No working on Sunday (no discussion of work requirements)
    Have big families
    The civil rights movement is a communist conspiracy
    Uncool stuff about rape
    No on evolution
    No turning down church callings
    No interracial marriage, and the list goes on and on.

    If I reject some of the these, I guess I’m headed to the dark side. If I think some are inappropriate, I occasionally speak out.

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