Christ Has Made Us Free

Light of the World

Two thousand years ago the Jewish people were under the dominion of the Roman empire. Under this condition of bondage, the jews looked forward to the messiah, the anointed one prophesied of anciently who would deliver them from captivity. To them, though, the solution from captivity was political. Focus was probably on Jewish leadership – possibly someone popular, prestigious, militarily powerful or a politician; someone who could gloriously and heroically triumph over the Romans and make them free.

It’s in this setting, when the Jews were looking for their government savior, that Jesus of Nazareth, the son of a carpenter – un-affluent, unpopular and uncredentialed by society’s standards – entered the scene. The actual Savior, apparent only to a few humble truth-seekers, didn’t fall into the social or political ranks and therefore “his own received him not” (John 1:11).

The tendency that they and many of us suffer from is the inability to discern the unadorned simple truth from the flashy counterfeits that attract our fickle attention. Worldly heroes are a spectacle on the surface. They hold prestigious titles and worldly authority. They’re ambitious, eloquent, powerful, physically polished and mighty. Like fireworks in the sky, we’re mesmerized by their colorful, thunderous flash above us. Christ, on the other hand, descended below all things (D&C 88:6), was a humble, wise, loving, kind, principled peacekeeper who didn’t seek his own glory or honor.

Freedom From Antiquated Rituals

It’s of this man this Redeemer that Paul wrote about to the Jewish and Gentile converts in the Roman province, Galatia:

“Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.” (Galatians 5:1).

What type of bondage was Paul referring to? The context of this chapter (and the surrounding chapters) contain Paul’s writings directed primarily at the Judaizers in an attempt to convince them that the Law of Moses was fulfilled by Christ’s sacrifice. The burden and bondage of this law was lifted and Paul encouraged them to do good with this liberty by serving one another:

“For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.” (Galatians 5:13)

This liberty and corresponding responsibility are critical if one is to experience life and truth to their fullest. The cultural norms and traditions of our fathers that are passed down (from generation to generation; or from peer to peer; or from academia to pupil; or from the media to consumer; etc) often bind our minds and hearts to a particular way of doing and seeing things and we are therefore unwilling to see the truth (2 Ne 29). As we unshackle our minds and hearts and look to Christ, we will be freed. The greater our capacity of freedom, the greater our capacity to serve and to do good.

Freedom From Ignorance

After that famous moment at the temple when Christ saved the adulteress from being stoned to death he taught the remaining crowd about the power by which to dispel darkness:

I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life. If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:12, 31-32)

A bystander replied to this invitation to light, truth and freedom with:

We be Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free?” (v 33)

Apparently, like many today, this inquirer was ignorant to the many levels of bondage with which they and their forefathers were in. Even at the level for which they misinterpreted the Savior’s teaching, up to that point, Abraham’s seed had been in bondage to Egypt (Exodus 1:14), Assyria (2 Kings 15:29), the Babylonians (2 Kings 24:15), and even to themselves (Nehemiah 5). This type of historical ignorance probably contributed to much of this chosen people’s continual cycle of hardship and bondage up to that point.

Freedom From Sin

Christ’s teaching that the truth will make us free has often been used as a reference from those advocating a formal education and while there could be a level of truth to that, the real reason Christ taught this is more substantive and long-lasting. The Savior’s response to Abraham’s seed about what type of freedom He was referring to:

“Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin. And the servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever. If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” (John 8: 34-36)

After much disagreement by the crowd and refusal to understand what Christ was talking about, Christ pointed out:

“Why do ye not understand my speech? even because ye cannot hear my word. He that is of God heareth God’s words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God.” (John 8:43,47)

Inasmuch as we seek temporary solutions to eternal problems we’ll continue to miss the mark. Much like the audience at the temple, if we only wear a temporal lense, we’ll miss the truth right in front of us. We’ll cling to our preconceived way of doing things. As long as our hope lies in the arm of flesh, we’ll continue to fail. Our false hope will perpetuate an existence of misery and pain. BUT no matter our circumstances – poor, disabled, misfortunate, enslaved or imprisoned – we can be even keeled in the hope and assurance that Christ has made us free; free in what eternally matters. We can live in confidence knowing that our greatest freedom, our freedom from sin, is available at all times and no one can take it from us.

Freedom From Other Forms of Bondage

All people are in one form of bondage or another. Whether that bondage is self inflicted like financial debt, addiction, self doubt or any form of sin. Or whether that bondage is beyond one’s ability to easily control like a lack of employment or educational opportunities, physical disabilities, false cultural norms and traditions or being dominated by a governing body (government, business, etc). We ought to try to rid ourselves of our temporal shackles to the extent that we can righteously do so.

The same human weakness that caused the Jews to be unaware of the God amongst them causes many of us, today, to be blinded to the truth. The truth that God is with us, if we’ll look. He’ll unlock our imprisoned hearts, open our misguided minds and unshackle our sin-burdened souls; if we’ll let Him. Those who receive the Great Liberator, though their temporal shackles may still show on the surface, are free. Through His grace they are freed from sin, from anguish and despair. The sting of death is swallowed up in the hope of eternal life. They can stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has made them free. Forever.

“Wherefore, redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah; for he is full of grace and truth. Behold, he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered… No flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah” (2 Ne 2:6-8)

Judging The Baptist By His Cover

John (The Baptist)While in prison for calling out Herod’s illegal marriage to Herodias, John (the Baptist) sent two of his disciples to Jesus to ask whether Jesus was the Christ prophesied of or if they should look for another. During that same hour Jesus showed them many miracles and told them to report to John what they had seen and heard. After they left, Jesus praised John while rebuking some by asking the remaining crowd:

“What went ye out into the wilderness for to see? A reed shaken with the wind? …A man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, they which are gorgeously apparelled, and live delicately, are in kings’ courts… [or] A prophet?” (Luke 7:24-26)

In other words, Jesus was challenging their view of John by rhetorically asking them if they were expecting someone fickle who would be tossed to and fro by the winds of societal change, someone of worldly status and elegance or a prophet. Contrasting the first two options against the acceptance of a prophet causes the honest at heart to acknowledge their natural tendency to “look on the outward appearance” (1 Sam 16:7) when judging man and truth.

The “outward appearance” of John was peculiar, which makes Jesus’ remarks especially meaningful. His clothes were made of camel’s hair and were held together by a leather belt. He neither ate bread or wine (Luke 7:33) but his diet consisted of locusts and wild honey (Matthew 3:4). John’s delivery was straightforward. He told it how it was. When many Pharisees and Sadducees arrived at the baptisms going on at Jordan, he directly called them a ”generation of vipers” who, unless they repented, would burn as chaff in an “unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:7,12). He was unafraid to tell the uncomfortable truth, despite how “important” or powerful the people he was inconveniencing were. This steadfast loyalty to truth resulted in his imprisonment and eventual beheading.

Despite John’s style and lack of outward appeal, Jesus affirmed John’s mission by teaching that he was “much more than a prophet”, that he was the one prophesied of who would prepare the way for Jesus and that “Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist” (Luke 7:26-28). Could a mortal receive better praise than this? The man, whose mission it was to prepare the way for and baptize Christ, was not crafted in the art of eloquence or adorned with fine apparel and worldly prestige and titles. He was a simple man who faithfully, courageously and honestly spoke the truth–undaunted by worldly opinions. Even Christ, the very Savior of mankind, was prophesied of by Isaiah that He would have “no beauty that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2).

Contrast John (and Christ) to the appeasers who water down the teachings of the gospel out of a fear of the reproach of men. They would exchange their honor for temporary appeasement. Because they fear man more than God their luke-warmness will cause God to spew them out of His mouth (Revelation 3:16). While John’s firmness caused him to temporarily lose his head, some people’s fear will cause them to eternally lose their souls.

Sometime last year, a visitor came to church. His outward appearance left much to be desired. He wasn’t clean shaven. His hair was a mess. His ragged clothes made me think he was homeless. When given the opportunity to speak over the pulpit and during sunday school, he spoke long and with a stutter. I remember it getting to a point where a few of us would smirk at each other whenever he spoke. Upon reflection, later that day, I recalled the things that this visitor had said and I noticed something profound- his words testified plainly and truthfully about the gospel of Christ. He was humble, yet bold. He taught scripture and applied their principles in meaningful ways. “So who was this visitor?”- I thought. A gospel-savvy hobo? An angel sent to test us? I don’t know and I don’t know if it matters. God saw my reaction to the unadorned truth. I failed. I ignored the truth due to the lack of outward appeal of the messenger.

An underlying purpose of modern marketing and public relations is to increase the appeal (or “packaging”) of people, products and messages. While there is nothing inherently bad about this objective, it can be detrimental when we allow the outward appearance to blind us of the inner core. If we were alive two millennia ago would we have rejected the gospel because of its packaging, or lack thereof? The answer to that rests in our manner of judgement now. Does outward appearance with its polished packaging, its worldly titles, prestige and eloquence influence our perception of truth? Does the source of a message alter our willingness to believe it? If academia or the media tell us what we should believe, do we unquestioningly believe? If celebrities tell us what to believe, do we believe? Do cultural norms or the traditions of our fathers influence our perception of truth? Does one’s title or “authority” blind us from the unadorned truth? Let’s not forget that “the way, the truth and the life” was rejected by the religious and political authorities of His time. Influenced by those authorities, “his own received him not” (John 1:11).

Isaiah’s council, “…fear ye not the reproach of men, neither be ye afraid of their revilings” (Isaiah 51:7) ought to guide the way we judge and deliver truth- for are our souls worth the approval of man?

Who’s “The Good Guy”?

Glasses Perspective

Have you ever been watching a movie and asked yourself, “So who’s the good guy? Who am I supposed to be rooting for right now?” Many stories portrayed in the past have made it clear who the storyteller wants you to be rooting for. They gave the princess the beautifully colored dress with the intent of “pure love” and gave the witch a dark gown, hard features with the intent for power. They gave John Wayne the white hat and white horse while his nemesis wore black. The war movie shows your side as the noble heroes and the enemy as ruthless heathens. Good side, bad side, so on and so forth. You get the idea.

Recently, there’s been a trend in storytelling which doesn’t make it clear who “the good guys” and “the bad guys” are. Stories such as Breaking Bad, Wicked and Maleficent are giving a new twist to storytelling and its reception is gaining popularity. Perhaps it’s because people find it refreshing to experience a story that is more realistic and therefore more relatable. After all, everyone is fallible and capable of both good and bad. Maybe it’s a good thing if we quit viewing man as a symbol of morality. Doing so might be teaching us to put our trust in the arm of flesh. What happens when our foundation is man, and man fails? Also, perhaps portraying the why behind a character’s evil teaches us to not judge too quickly or too harshly in real life.

Even though this particular lens which storytellers have us gaze through has its benefits, it also has its risks. To people who don’t have a solid foundation of values and principles- they might experience this type of story and come to the conclusion that morals are relative. After so much exposure to these types of points of view some might reject the truth vs error point-of-view for a gray one. To others, it could eventually normalize and even justify evil in their minds.

Truth is not gray but people are. Nobody is perfect. Everyone, including those historical figures your history teacher spoke of with reverence and awe, has sinned. And yes, in order for there to be a sin there must be a law—a universal law which governs all mankind according to truth and justice. Truth and morality are not ambiguous. People are.

We need to be able to separate the person from the act. The phrase “Love the sinner. Hate the sin.” is a reminder and indication that people naturally struggle separating the two. Those who are finely tuned into the law at the expense of the person tend to drag the sinner down to the same level that they despise the sin. When the scribes and Pharisees brought the adulteress to Jesus they referenced the law as justification for their condemnation—a condemnation with no compassion for the sinner.

In recent history, perhaps strongly correlated to the advancement of secular humanism, there has been another distortion influencing people’s inability to separate sin from sinner. This has been taking shape in the enticing form of the tolerance movement. Probably most people advocating tolerance are well meaning. They tend to be caring people with a desire for accepting others. Often, though, their desire for compassion comes at the expense of acknowledging right from wrong. Those who are finely tuned into the person at the expense of the law tend to elevate the sin to the level of the person.

Imagine if Jesus had told the adulteress: “I don’t condemn you. I accept you for what you are. Go, and have fun.” He didn’t say that because, unlike most of us, He is able to love the sinner and not the sin. What he really told her was: “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.” This showed that He was finely tuned into both law and love for person—neither at the expense of the other.Tolerance Sinner and SinAnother pitfall that some people fall into while observing ambiguous characters is the temptation to let understanding the why to excuse the what. It does us well to understand why people have done the things that they’ve done but on more than one occasion, after expressing my disapproval for a violation of justice, someone would respond: “Well you do understand WHY they did it, don’t you?” as if to justify the act. To this I respond: “I understand why someone would steal a Corvette because I want a Corvette. But that doesn’t make it right.” Sometimes people get blinded by the why at the expense of the what. Worthy ends do not justify immoral means.

The need people feel to pick sides—to root for their guy or their team or fill in the blank with whichever arm of flesh you choose—is probably due to a combination of our tribal nature and the fact that our cultural upbringing was full of stories conditioning us to believe that for every conflict there is a good guy who is 100% in the right and a bad guy who is 100% in the wrong.

It’s hard for most people to look at a conflict involving multiple people and objectively acknowledge the faults and justifications that each side requires. Instead, we quickly pick a side. We ignore the positions of the alternatives. If our guy said it, it must be true. If another side did it, it must be wrong. Symptoms of this mentality manifest themselves in the form of party-spirit, unrelenting loyalty to one’s local sports team, nationalistic egotism, and blind zeal for public figures.

If I was brought up believing that a certain historical character was nigh unto God and then I stumble upon some major flaws about that person’s deeds and character, what am I to do? Should I ignore what I’ve just learned? Is it better to rationalize what they’ve done? Should I swing to the other extreme and revile them as if the bad they’ve done erased all the good? Or shouldn’t we see man as man—weak and fallible, yet capable of much good? How would the world judge your history if they had complete knowledge of all of your doings? Would it be fair for them to label you a villain and condemn you to hell because of the wrongs you’ve committed along the way? Or would a liar’s history be justly portrayed if their un-repented misdeeds were swept under a rug?

I suggest that a reset might be in order. I suggest taking all of our heroes and villains and giving them a clean slate. Acknowledge that not one of them (with the exception of the Savior) is all good or all bad. Observe man through the lens of compassion and choices through the lens of eternal law. Pick the side of truth instead of the side of flesh.

I once met a Marine veteran whom I believe doesn’t need to ask the ignorant question: “Who am I supposed to be rooting for right now?” He has had experiences both horrific and miraculous. He fought in Fallujah where he watched his friends die in his arms. Through a special experience he came to experience God’s love and healing. He eventually lived all over the Middle East gaining an education, learning many languages and falling in love with all peoples. He would often be asked, by people expecting him to take a side, “Are you pro-Israel or pro-Palestine?” His response:

“I’m pro-Child of God.”

Objectivity and The Quest For Truth

One of the most underrated qualities a person can have is objectivity. Being objective leads to truth. Truth to freedom (John 8:32). Freedom to salvation. For how can a person be saved in ignorance? Or how could that person dispel that ignorance without first seeking truth objectively? This presupposes that truth is not relative in which there are different truths depending on different people’s perspectives. Truth, in this context, is reality—things as they really are.

Everyone has preconceived notions about what reality is. These preconceived notions often come from cultural, religious, philosophical, scholarly, family and other societal norms and traditions. Much like the parable of the Blind Men and The Elephant, we all come to fallacious conclusions about what is true.

It was six men of Indostanblind men elephant
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.

The First approached the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
“God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a WALL!”

The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, “Ho, what have we here,
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me ’tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a SPEAR!”

The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a SNAKE!”

The Fourth reached out an eager hand,
And felt about the knee
“What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain,” quoth he:
“‘Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a TREE!”

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: “E’en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a FAN!”

The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Than seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a ROPE!”

And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!

(John Godfrey Saxe’s Rendition)

In a sense, we are all blind. Our perspective of reality is severely limited by too few experiences and by our tendency to jump to hasty conclusions about what those experiences mean. Is it any wonder why there are so many versions of history when the people who actually experienced the times and events pass on their limited (often distorted and one-sided) versions to those who then pass it on and on from one generation to the next? Much like the game Telephone, what may have been reality in the beginning is almost never reality by the end.

In order for people to learn truth there are several conditions and qualities which must be met. If any of these are missing then truth will not be fully realized.

  1. The truth must be available—one can seek truth all they can but if it is out of their capacity to learn then truth will not be fully realized.
  2. People must be free—if the truth is available but people don’t have the freedom to research, proclaim, publish, and share it then truth will not be fully realized.
  3. People must have a desire for truth—if one has an apathetic approach (or no approach at all) to learning then truth will not be fully realized.
  4. People must investigate—what good is a desire without an action? Without the doing then truth will not be fully realized.
  5. People must be honest (aka objective)—the whole process and quest for knowledge requires that a person be willing to accept truth over bias but if people remain biased to their own opinions (or the opinions of those who they trust) without looking at all facts and evidence then truth will not be fully realized.

Let’s assume all of these conditions and qualities are met. Will that automatically make a person omniscient today? No. Learning is a process. If living according to other correct principles are any indication of what the quest for truth is like, it will require a significant amount of time, diligence, patience, energy, hard work, humility and yes—faith. Doing so will initially be unpopular.

Throughout history, whenever someone challenges the status quo in their quest for truth, they have often met heavy resistance from the prevailing powers. People such as Moses, Christ, Martin Luther, John Wesley, some American founders, Joseph Smith, Gandhi, and many more all had to meet heavy resistance when they dispelled ignorance.

If a certain truth scares you, that might be a signal that either your conviction is false or deep down inside you doubt its validity.

If you hide or distort the truth, that might be a signal that your allegiance to truth is not primary.

Those who hold certain convictions tend to be concerned with those who investigate differing points of view. Regardless of what our convictions might be, we shouldn’t fear but should rather praise the objective efforts of those seeking truth. Their efforts might lead them away from the truth. But, if they diligently seek it objectively and honestly, they are very likely going to find light that most of us have never found.

It is interesting that an atheist and a religionist can both believe they are applying the principle of objectivity but yet arrive at conflicting conclusions. On the one hand, an atheist will argue that they let the evidence of existing tangibles guide them to their conclusion. On the other hand, a religionist can argue that they let the evidence of spiritual manifestations guide them to their conclusion. They both can’t be right—at least not completely.

Ask yourself, “Had I been alive during Christ’s ministry, the reformation, the American revolution, the early restoration, or any other meaningful societal shift, would I have been the type to give up my old ways to accept a better way?” or “Would I have clung to the old order of things?” The best indication of how you would have chosen is determined on how you view the world now. The same spirit that possesses your body now would have possessed it in the past.

“The man who has a certain religious belief and fears to discuss it, lest it may be proved wrong, is not loyal to his belief, he has but a coward’s faithfulness to his prejudices. If he were a lover of truth, he would be willing at any moment to surrender his belief for a higher, better, and truer faith.” –William George Jordan, The Power of Truth; Individual Problems and Posibilities, 1902

Being objective is a virtue. It requires being honest, humble, teachable, and courageous. Blind conviction is a vice. It blinds our eyes, covers our ears, hardens our hearts, and damns our souls.

If the truth were to arrive at your door right now would you be willing to let it in? Are you open to it? Or are you stuck in your convictions? You have the truth. Anyone else with a different belief is automatically wrong. Perhaps we convince ourselves of these things but maybe, in reality, our convictions are based less on truth and more on tradition; or because we’ve invested so much into the system already and we feel the need to stay committed; or maybe we’re afraid to be wrong- so wrong for so long; or maybe it’s not comfortable to change; or maybe we’ve benefited from this system for so long that to recognize its flaws is to risk losing its payments. Conviction can be damning when it keeps us from progressing toward the truth.

Ultimately though, one could come to an understanding of what is true and choose to live contrary to what they now know. Knowledge alone will not save you. If you know Truth you do well; but the devils also know and tremble (James 2:19). Wisdom—truth in action—is what makes the difference between death and life, misery and joy.

Obeying Authority and the Rule of Thirds

soldier shooting civiliansHalf a century ago Adolf Eichmann was captured and taken from Argentina to an Israeli civilian court to answer for crimes against humanity and the Jewish people. Several decades earlier, Eichmann was a German Nazi lieutenant colonel tasked with the responsibility of managing much of the logistics of the Holocaust. During Eichmann’s cross-examination the prosecution asked him if he considered himself guilty of the murder of millions of people. Eichmann’s defense—that he was just “following orders” and that he “never did anything, great or small, without obtaining in advance express instructions from Adolf Hitler or any of (his) superiors.” His defense was rejected; he was found guilty and hanged the following year.

Inspired by the Eichmann trial, Stanley Milgram, a Social Psychology professor at Yale, performed an experiment aimed at answering the question: “Could it be that Eichmann and his million accomplices in the Holocaust were just following orders? Could we call them all accomplices?” In Milgram’s own words the experiment went as follows:

“A simple procedure is devised for studying obedience. A person comes to the laboratory and, in the context of a learning experiment, is told to give increasingly severe shocks to another person (who is actually an actor). The purpose of the experiment is to see how far a subject will proceed before refusing to comply with the experimenter’s instructions.”

The experiment was originally performed on 40 test subjects. Each one of them was told by Milgram (the authority in the room) to ask questions and administer shocks by increments of 15 volts to the person in the other room whenever that person answered a question incorrectly. This was to persist until the voltage reached the full 450 volts. The person in the other room, who was not really getting shocked, acted as though each shock was getting increasingly worse by screaming, complaining about his “heart condition”, and then after the 300 volt administration he went silent. Many of the test subjects, assuming that they were really inflicting pain or possible death on the man in the other room, felt bad and asked to quit the experiment. Milgram’s scripted response was that he took personal responsibility for whatever happened and that he required them to continue until the experiment was completed.

Of the 40 test subjects 26 administered the full 450 volt shock. That is a 65 percent compliance rate. After the experiment was published some astonished psychologists presumed that the experiment was done incorrectly so they tried their own variations and found almost identical results. Variations of the experiment have been conducted across time and cultures to see if the results would change. The compliance rate averages around two thirds.

It appears it is generally in our nature to obey an immoral command when that command is administered by an apparent authority figure. But should that relieve us of accountability? If you or I were in the shoes of Eichmann, Milgram’s test subjects, or acting as agents of some other despot we would probably tell ourselves that we would disobey. “I am different. I would act morally. I would not be acted upon.” we tell ourselves. But would we? Let us hope so- for our own sakes and for the sakes of others. Edmund Burk is oft-quoted as saying, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” It appears that evil also needs mindless agents willing to obey orders. Let us be neither the complacent good nor compliant to evil.

Looking at Milgram’s experiment alone might offer us little hope as to how we would likely behave if commanded to execute an undesirable action but an experiment performed by Indiana University psychology professor Steven Sherman suggests that “education can strengthen the power of conscience over authority” when we consciously decide ahead of time to do so. Interestingly, the experiment showed that consciously making that decision ahead of time dropped the compliance rate from 2/3 to 1/3.

While I am not a social psychologist nor do I have sufficient evidence to back up this theory- there does appear to be some proof, in my mind, to submit a theory of obeying authority and the rule of thirds. That is that there is a breaking point at which, for better or for worse, a group is broken up into three factions for a particular cause- the obedient, the neutral, and the defiant.

In a 2009 Rasmussen poll—31% of Texas voters said that their country had the right to secede from the union and form their own independent country. Similarly, a 2012 HuffPost/YouGov poll given to 1000 adult Americans across the country found that “29 percent said states should be allowed to secede if a majority of their residents supported secession, while 38 percent said they should not, and a third weren’t sure.”

Following the War for American Independence, British General James Robertson, in his testimony before a committee on the conduct of the war, estimated that the American population during the war was one-third for the cause of American independence, one-third neutral, and one-third loyalists.

John Adams similarly wrote in a letter to Thomas Jefferson on Nov 12, 1813 concerning the Continental Congress that “To draw the characters of them all would require a volume, and would now be considered as a caricature-print; one-third tories, another whigs, and the rest mongrels.”

In response to the former Delaware Continental Congressman Thomas McKean who believed that “the great mass of the people were zealous in the cause of America” Adams wrote in Aug 31, 1813 that:

“Upon the whole, if we allow two thirds of the people to have been with us in the revolution, is not the allowance ample? Are not the two thirds of the nation now with the administration? Divided we ever have been, and ever must be. Two thirds always had and will have more difficulty to struggle with the one third than with all our foreign enemies.”

Upon reflection Mckean agreed.

Referring to the French Revolution in an 1815 letter to Massachusetts Senator James Lloyd, John Adams estimated that the Americans were generally one third “averse” to the revolution, one third for the revolution out of “a hatred of the English”, and the “middle third” that were, as Adams put it “the soundest part of the nation” and “averse to war”.

Finally, the war of wars which has existed since before the beginning of man on Earth—The War in Heaven, as it is known amongst latter-day saints, repeats a similar social psychology statistic. One-third of God’s spirits rejected the appointment of Christ as their savior, were cast down to Earth, and became devils. As the Bible Dictionary points out:

“Although one-third of the spirits became devils, the remaining two-thirds were not all equally valiant, there being every degree of devotion to Christ and the Father among them.”

Could it be that of the two-thirds who accepted the appointment of Christ that half of them were fence-sitters? I truly don’t know but that’s what I might guess.

So if all of these examples teach us anything it might be these: 1) choose the right regardless of who your authority is and 2) be prepared to have anywhere from a third to two-thirds obey a different authority than you—whether that authority is natural law or man’s law. To conclude his findings Professor Sherman wrote:

“When you look before you leap or predict behavior before you behave, the leaping and the behavior are likely to be altered; and indications are that the behavior will become more socially desirable and morally acceptable.” (Sherman, On the Self-Erasing Nature of Errors of Prediction, p 220, 1980)

It’s time to ask ourselves- “What would I do…?”