To Be Lawful or Good
In Dungeons and Dragons, the characters in the game can have one of nine different alignments that indicate the character’s orientation toward law vs chaos on one axis and good vs evil on the other axis. Each axis has three points – good, neutral, evil on the good/evil axis and lawful, neutral, chaotic on the law vs chaos axis. So a character can be, for example, lawful good (one who obeys systems of authority and does the morally correct thing), chaotic evil (one who rejects systems of authority and does the morally wrong thing), neutral evil (one who doesn’t care one way or the other about systems of authority and does the morally wrong thing), etc.
There’s an interesting dilemma that can occur for a lawful good character when what is lawful and what is good conflict. Does one obey the law, thus violating the moral code, or does one do the morally correct thing, thus violating the law?
In LDS theology, I think a case can be made for viewing God as lawful good. As people who are supposed to aspire to be like God, I think we’re supposed to aspire to being lawful good, too. But we live in a fallen world where what is lawful and what is good sometimes conflict.
The two alignments that are closest to lawful good but take different answers to the dilemma are lawful neutral (obey systems of authority without regard to what is morally correct) or neutral good (without regard to systems of authority, do the morally correct thing).
I think the church teaches that lawful neutral is superior to neutral good. We can see this with the Mormon interpretation of Eve in the Garden of Eden (she did the right thing by eating the fruit, but she broke the law to do so, and she was punished with painful childbirth and subjection to Adam as a result – her punishment shows that lawful is more important than good). We can also see this in the story of Abraham (he was told to kill his son – a wrong act – but the command came from an angel, so it was a lawful act. He was praised for his willingness to perform the act, showing that lawful is more important than good).
Jesus was neutral good, however. When He viewed the actions of the Pharisees (the lawful leaders) as morally wrong, He defied them in favor of doing what was right.
In addition to being what I see as a morally wimpy stand, I think prioritizing following authority over doing the right thing gets straight at the heart of the conflict at the center of the war in heaven. Satan’s plan was for everyone to follow authority all the time without thinking or choosing. I think he was lawful neutral at the beginning. But if we want to be like Jesus, I think we need to be neutral good.
There isn’t really a place to say that at church, though. I remember once in an institute class when we were discussing the 12th article of faith I raised the issue of how to decide when to disobey morally repugnant laws, and everyone was shocked that I would even contemplate the idea that breaking the law was ever okay. Like, until that point, I thought it was universally accepted that sometimes breaking the law is necessary. (The extreme example is in WWII Europe, I thought everyone today would view hiding Jews in the basement as the morally proper thing to do even if it was against the law.)
I wonder what it would take to make a large swath of church members reevaluate their views on law vs goodness.