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?

chart

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.

Trudy

Trudy is a lawyer living in the southwestern US. She has two cats who allow her to live in their house in exchange for a steady supply of food and treats.

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8 Responses

  1. Kim Barney says:

    It is our responsibility to address where we as individuals stand on law vs. goodness but not to ‘make a large swath of church members reevaluate their views.’ I often think if only the women of the church would take a stand against patriarchy things would change- when in actuality the only person I can change is me.

    • A Poor Wayfaring Stranger says:

      I agree with you Kim. However, scripture tells us over and over that by small means great things can be accomplished. How many women in the church are fed up with patriarchy and the way it continually renders us women and girls as “less than” in the eyes of the men and boys in our wards (and, sadly, sometimes in our own families) as well as the leadership at the ward, stake, regional/area and general authority levels? I am quite sure that the numbers are very large. My LDS friends who are native church members from other countries also are very fed up with patriarchy. This isn’t just an “angry, white, American woman” problem. It is churchwide. The Q15 need to understand this basic fact.

      The Q15 and other leaders need to be shown that over 50% of the church’s active members are being under utilized or not utilized at all because of outdated patriarchal notions that went out of style 60 years ago at the beginning of the 1960’s. The women of the church could do so much good in and out of the church and refocus the church’s mission to more closely follow the Sermon on the Mount which was/is Christ’s kingdom manifesto. We don’t need to be babysat by a Priesthood leader (as is now required) in order to carry on our work. Not only is doing so insulting, but it’s also infantilizing. Christ treated his followers as adults who were capable of making rational decisions and thinking for themselves. Why aren’t we accorded the same courtesy that Christ gave each of his followers? Christ treated women with such incredible respect at a time when they were considered to be a husband’s property and worth less than his livestock and land or business. Their only real function was to be a housekeeper, cook and baby making machine. Woe be unto any woman who had fertility issues. She was an outcast even if the problem was her husband’s. Funny how some things haven’t really changed their much in 2000 years!

      Perhaps we women of the church should band together in small and large groups and go about living the Sermon on Mount teachings outside of Relief Society and church. If the men stand in our way within the confines of the church perhaps it’s time to carry on the Savior’s mission outside of the church so that silly, stupid, uninspired, frustrating and downright wrong man made rules and barriers don’t get in the way of our doing what is good and right, caring for the least, the lost, the lonely, the sick and all who are in need of a helping hand or a listening ear. The Lord will take this all into account when we finally stand before Him to give Him an account of our time here on earth.

  2. Allyall says:

    Interesting! Have you read the story of Helmut Huberner ? He was the minority in the German LDS of the time. Most LDS did choose lawful neutral. 🙁

    The story of Abraham sacrificing his son has always bothered me and this does a nice job of explaining why. However your interpretation of Eve is different from how I learned it, I have always heard that we celebrate what Eve did because without her actions we wouldn’t exist. That the consequences unfortunately had to occur but her choice was for the good of all human kind and as LDS we are unique in appreciating and recognizing the importance of what she did. Which would be celebrating her neutral good choice.

    I would also like to point out that there are a lot of examples of LDS people arguing for a neutral good approach in our history and even in relatively current events. The MWEG group, and the cattle ranchers in the northwest who had that scuffle with the government come to mind.

    I think the church struggles with this conflict of neutral good and lawful neutral because they want to stay on the good side of governments to further the work of salvation. But if the church succeeds in helping us focus on Jesus as individuals, we can hopefully learn neutral good from his example and be agents for change to improve our communities and governments.

    • A Poor Wayfaring Stranger says:

      When I was a freshman at BYU a group of students wrote a play about Hubener and performed it on campus. Elders Benson and Packer demanded that the show, which was playing to packed houses every night, be closed down immediately because they felt that Hubener was a subversive individual who broke the law and shouldn’t be celebrated as a hero. Dallin Oaks, the president of BYU at the time immediately shut the play down. What he and the Q15 didn’t expect was that the student body revolted. We picketed the university from across the street at all the entrances to campus. News organizations from all over the country sent reporters to cover the protests. Benson, Packer and Oaks tried to make excuses for their terrible decision, but their explanations were lame, especially when you consider the fact that Hubener is now considered to be one of the bravest people to openly defy Hitler and the Nazis. An off campus facility was donated to the theater group so that they could continue perform their Hubener play. As a result the play was able to run much longer than was originally intended. Because of the national coverage people came from out of state to see it including Holocaust survivors. A roommate of mine went one evening when a Holocaust survivor from New York attended and she was invited to say a few words at the end of the play. My roommate was in tears as she described the end of the play as Hubener leaves his cell to go to his execution followed the lady who had survived living in Dachau for three years. Hubener was definitely a young man of principle in openly fighting against Hitler and his regime. Our church leaders came off as looking closed minded, censorious and twisted in their thinking for trying to hide this young man’s courageous acts because they “broke the law” even though the laws were causing genocide on a massive scale.

  3. Allyall says:

    https://www.stgeorgeutah.com/news/archive/2014/02/24/kss-huebener-playwright-discusses-lds-church-suppressed-play-first-high-school-performance/#.YQp-WlMpCNw

    This article with an interview of the playwright supports the idea that church leaders were trying to shut down the play because of concern over offending communist governments and endangering members in those countries. This is choosing lawful neutral to further the work of salvation. There are now many books about Hubener published by Deseret book, and a church supported documentary about him.

  4. Kaylee says:

    I think you’re right that most members would probably consider God to be lawful good. I wonder though. If God created both laws and chaos, does that mean God is neutral? I think I want God to encompass both, like in the end of the book of Job where God is both Behemoth and Leviathan, both a powerful creative force and a powerful destructive force. (The book Re-reading Job: Understanding the Ancient World’s Greatest Poem by Michael Austin comes highly recommended.) The God I’ve come to know is good at dwelling in paradox.

    It is an act of faith to believe that God is good. How can God be good or lawful if he is telling Abraham to kill his son? Later on he tells Moses “Thou shalt not kill”. And then he goes and tells Nephi that he should kill Laban. God doesn’t follow his own laws, he’s got this higher set that we don’t know or understand. It’s okay, and maybe even necessary to question the goodness of God. Or at the very least the way humans tell stories about God.

  5. Bryn Brody says:

    Thank you for this, Trudy. As someone who can’t play evil characters, but loves a solid chaotic good character, I truly enjoyed linking the game to God. Have thought about the side quest/DM aspect but never this one.

  6. I hear lots of lawful neutral emphasis at church, along the lines of, “You will be blessed for being obedient to your leaders even if they are wrong.”

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