July 22nd, 2008

Voluntary Slavery


photo credit: And-rey

If there’s one pattern that noticeably jumps out at the studious scriptorian, it’s the repeating pattern of bondage and freedom which God’s children have experienced. Over and over again we read stories of how civilizations ebbed and flowed between these two ends of the spectrum. In an attempt to liken the scriptures to our own day, we might ask ourselves: where do we stand today?

Bondage comes in a variety of forms, all emanating from the same source. Elder Oaks spoke of this in a recent commencement address at BYU-Hawaii, where he noted that some forms of bondage include sin, drug addictions, passions and excessive preoccupations, wealth, and debt. Elder Oaks did not shoulder the responsibility and causality onto external forces, but instead referred to these examples as voluntary slavery.

I was asked a couple weeks ago what I consider to be our greatest threat at this time. Some of the other answers given to this person were as follows:

  • Lack of true wisdom
  • Pride
  • Selfishness
  • Fear
  • Lack of obedience
  • Failure to learn from past mistakes
  • Destruction of the family
  • Satan

The last answer listed differs from the rest, in that the others describe issues with ourselves as individuals, whereas the suggestion that Satan is our biggest threat implies that we are most at danger from our enemy. My answer was a summation of the others: I believe that our greatest threat is us. I believe that this answer harmonizes with Elder Oaks’ words:

The Father’s plan of salvation rejected [Satan’s] proposal, but since His plan was based on our power to choose, we each have the power to give ourselves over into many lesser forms of slavery. I call this voluntary slavery.

Satan can have no power over us unless we give it to him. We are the masters of our own destiny (subject to God’s will); we can choose to follow His commandments and be free, or we can reject His counsel, thinking that we know better, and thus bring ourselves into bondage.

A recent book review summed up its author’s assertion that the voluntary slavery which Elder Oaks referred to is commonplace:

…in America, we have achieved the Orwellian prediction—enslaved, the people have been programmed to love their bondage and are left to clutch only mirage-like images of freedom, its fables and fictions. The new slaves are linked together by vast electronic chains of television that imprison not their bodies but their minds. Their desires are programmed, their tastes manipulated, their values set for them.

To repeat the question asked at the beginning of this post: where do we stand today? Do we understand what freedom truly is? When Christ said that he made us free, was that subject to a long disclaimer He did not offer, or does it not apply to our day for some other reason?

It seems that, depending on the issue, we teeter-totter somewhere in the middle of the bondage/freedom scale. Perhaps one of the other answers offered above was more accurate than initially thought. Fear may very well be our greatest threat, inasmuch as we fear freedom. We fear its attendant responsibilities, its consequences, its unpopularity, and its boldness. We fear what others will think, and we fear being different.

Elder Oaks explained the antidote that will help us to act and not be acted upon, thus allowing us to overcome our fear:

When we know the truth and act upon that truth, we can avoid the slavery of which I have spoken. Each of us has the precious gift of the Holy Ghost, whose function is to “guide [us] into all truth” (John 16:13). By keeping our covenants we can have the assurance that we will always have that Spirit to be with us. If we do that, the Savior assures us that we will always be free.

Ignorance is not bliss, no matter what conventional wisdom says. Ignorance is a precursor to slavery, and so long as we refuse to actively search for truth (so that we can act upon it), we will be voluntary placing ourselves in bondage.

Where do we stand? In which direction are we moving? And what is our goal? These answers might differ for each method of bondage (sin, debt, etc.). But whatever our condition, it’s best we remind ourselves that we are there of our own accord.

5 Responses to “Voluntary Slavery”

  1. Frank Staheli
    July 23, 2008 at 7:49 am #

    To me the most obvious form of voluntary slavery right now is debt. The Federal Reserve is so culpable in encouraging debt that it makes me want to spit on them. Nonetheless, home buyers and real estate investors should have realized that in the long-run, the Fed-inspired inflationary rise in prices could not sustain itself. Banking that your house is going to be worth more than when you went into hock to buy it is a dunderheaded idea, and now thousands of families are suffering as they get to the end of their mirages.

    My family is feeling the economic pinch in gas, food, and other prices, as well as a huge loss of value in our 401K, but boy are we glad that we took LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley’s advice in 1998 to get out of debt. It’s hard enough now as it is. Occasionally, we get infected with the “I want a bigger home” bug, but hopefully we’ve immunized ourselves against it.

  2. Obi wan liberali
    July 23, 2008 at 1:49 pm #

    Boy was I off. I thought this was going to be a marriage related post. :)

  3. Connor's Wife
    July 23, 2008 at 2:22 pm #

    It’s a darn good thing it’s not!!! ;)

  4. Daniel
    July 23, 2008 at 5:49 pm #

    Looking at it from another perspective…

    All my life in the Church, I was told that freedom came from ‘living the commandments’, which basically meant doing what other people told you to do. I was also told that if I ever ‘rejected the Lord’s counsel’, I would become enslaved by drug addiction, sin, bad television, hemorrhoids, and so on.

    I have since found both these ideas to be incorrect. By embracing reason and rejecting superstition, I am now free to make good choices without being concerned about the hypothetical opinions of supernatural beings. My former belief system now seems like a kind of voluntary slavery in which I short-circuited my critical thinking capacity in the service of an (ostensibly benevolent) organisation. But since my deconversion, my life and my understanding have improved, and I’m still the good moral agent I always was. So it cuts both ways.

    I do think Connor’s last paragraph is spot on, perhaps tragically so.

  5. Anthony E. Larson
    July 23, 2008 at 9:16 pm #

    If you wish to know where we stand as a whole, rather than individually, you may wish to refer to events in the book of Helaman and 3 Nephi. Our present is prefigured in their past. We are modern couterparts of the Nephites in that era. As you point out, by “likening” them to our day, we can see where we stand.

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