In Defense of Virtue Ethics


Of the “Big Three” moral philosophies, virtue ethics seems to be the most problematic. Criticisms and rebuttals of the other two theories, utilitarianism and deontology, are relatively simple to state and understand, or at least I found them so. On the other hand, I was able to easily compile a dozen criticisms of virtue ethics from a very few professional papers on the subject in a short amount of time. That intrigued me. In this paper I intend to defend virtue ethics as the best moral philosophy by addressing several of the excellent criticisms.

The theory is straight-forward: Moral life should have a purpose and lead to happiness. Virtue ethics is about building character. Developing good moral character leads to contentment that comes from “doing the right thing.” This moral theory is not about rules or something called “utility.” Virtue ethics requires a lifetime of practice to develop. The way to become a moral person is to be moral. This theory is more about being or becoming, not so much about doing. It’s about who you are. The concept of the “mean” is crucial to this philosophy. The focus is on balance, moderation and avoiding extremes. Aristotle taught in order to achieve a virtuous and potentially happy character, we must first be taught by teachers and by experience. Later, we then consciously choose to do the best or virtuous things when presented with moral choices. This requires a lot of pondering of our choices and ultimately, feeling about things in a certain way. It is this feeling which causes, motivates or empowers virtuous or good actions.

Perhaps it is this component of feeling that raises such criticism. Those who practice virtue ethics are seeking eudemonia (Greek), a state meaning well-being, blessedness, or for our purposes, a state of human flourishing. That makes it hard to measure and hard to determine when such a state has been reached. How can virtue ethics be useful in a society if the objective is so subjective to the individual? This is just one of the criticisms I will address in this essay. Of course, just because a theory has legitimate criticisms does not negate the value of the theory, especially if favorable rebuttals can be presented. I am going to assume you are familiar with the theory beyond the basics presented in the preceding paragraph and will therefore focus on the rebuttals as the core of the argument advocating my position.

Let’s address the applicability problem right up front. What sorts of actions are morally permitted and which ones are not? What sorts of measureable outcomes are desired with virtue ethics? What are the duties or rules of virtue ethics that can be used in specific moral situations? The difficulty in this objection is that it focuses on a lower functioning level of human nature – having to be told what to do in all situations. Such a lower level is indicative of immaturity. Virtue ethics works best as one seeks to do the virtuous thing partly by avoiding vices. Let’s take the specific example of a raped fifteen year old girl trying to decide whether or not to have an abortion. The moral guidance of virtue ethics would have her avoid vices such as selfishness, irresponsibility or short-sightedness. Abortion is a personal choice but has consequences that reach far beyond the individual. Adoption is an alternative to abortion. Virtue ethics provides moral guidance in this situation by allowing the young mother a choice. She can make a very difficult situation better by applying the moral guidance afforded by seeking the virtues of love, patience, unselfishness, forgiveness, tolerance, kindness and charity. She may choose to raise the child herself but is probably not yet suited to provide the child the best care. She can have the abortion but perhaps she has strong feelings that she might regret her decision. Action guidance from virtue ethics allows her to choose to endure the unwanted pregnancy and give the child up for adoption as being a better choice. The criticism that virtue ethics does not provide action guidance in specific moral situations demonstrates an unwillingness to think things through, weigh the alternatives and make a choice, a process that rule-based systems don’t do well.

Now let’s address the cultural relativity problem. This is not unique to virtue ethics, but seems to be made less difficult by the unique aspects of this theory. You are probably familiar with the example of the differences in how some societies treat their dead. With virtue ethics, we can readily see that something abhorrent to Western civilization like cooking and eating a piece of flesh from your recently deceased grandmother might actually be an acceptable practice because it embodies the virtue of honoring your ancestors. Such a virtue is applicable to most cultures even though we may disagree with the way a specific culture implements it. Another example is the idea of slave-holding. In some cultures it was considered morally acceptable, even virtuous to enslave human beings. Virtue ethics does not necessarily require a static ranking of virtues over time. In the slave-holding example, there is an obvious conflict of virtues at work, which in the minds of some, justified the vice of enslaving another human being against their will (I’ll address the conflict problem and justification problem next). Virtue ethics embraces the idea of community. Our values are determined in large part by the communities to which we belong: nation, family, school, church and private and public associations. We accept that some virtues will hold a greater influence upon us according to the time and place in which we live. We are social animals, grounded in a particular place and time. The ethos of our society shapes our moral views and moral activity. The application of virtue ethics allows for the influence of our community to determine the ranking of our values according to our circumstances.

A good moral system must address dilemmas. The requirements of different virtues can bring about conflict because they seemingly point to different courses of action. However, this conflict is only apparent and can be resolved by those possessed with phronesis, translated as practical wisdom. This wisdom comes only with time and through practice, which of course means making mistakes. In reality, virtues do not make opposing demands. One course of action, which some may consider a rule, may outrank another in a particular case. Or it may be that there is an exception to a standard course of action based on the specific circumstances of a moral choice at hand. Over time, the practitioner of virtue ethics will come to know instinctively, or by a feeling, what is the right course of action in this situation. Since the complexities of every dilemma cannot be determined in advance, virtue ethics teaches the skills needed to study the problem out, ponder the choices and make the best decision. At first, this is difficult and prone to mistakes, but over time, it becomes second nature to know the best course of action.

I only have room to address one other criticism of virtue ethics known as the justification problem. In short, how do we justify or ground our ethical beliefs of what is moral? Which of all the character traits are the virtues? Perhaps this is where the idea of the mean comes into play. We can make lists of all kinds of character traits and then note the extremes of each end. While this may be an exercise to teach the skill for the uninitiated, I do not recommend it as a regular course of action. At one end of the spectrum is excessiveness, while the other end represents deficiency. For the virtue of courage we have recklessness and cowardice. For the virtue of work, we can consider laziness on one end and frenetic on the other. The Golden Mean is the virtue that is to be found in between two corresponding vices. As virtue ethicists, our objective is to be somewhere in the middle. Plato gave us the four Cardinal Virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance. Aristotle then added five additional virtues of wisdom, courage, liberality, magnificence and magnanimity. There is no master list of virtues because it could never be all-inclusive. This moral theory is not grounded in a list of rules, desired outcomes or even specific virtues, but rather on the idea of balance, moderation and avoiding extremes. Virtue ethics is grounded on a skill of how to choose wisely, which only comes with practice over time.

In conclusion, it is my contention that virtue ethics is a superior moral system because it is more flexible and embraces a wider range of possibilities than rule-based or outcome-based systems, mainly because of the central component of endorsing agent-based choice as the best way to guide one’s life. Just because a person is continent or falls short of a perfect virtue does not negate the value of virtue ethics. There is something particularly admirable about people who manage to act well when it is especially hard for them to do so. They may not yet have achieved eudemonia, but they are still practicing, which is a major part of the theory of virtue ethics. They may fall short of the ideal again and again but continue to seek the goal of perfection through an ever-so-slightly different approach. This may seem repetitive or even counter-productive, but perhaps that is part of the beauty of the theory. Eventually, given sufficient time and effort and with encouragement from teachers and leaders, practice will pay off. The performance will be complete and the practitioner of virtue ethics will reap the benefits of a moral life well lived.

We Have Limited Free Will


We have limited free will. Within certain limitations, we can make choices and act upon those choices. Our choices are partially controlled and determined by outside forces and by the laws of physics. But we have agency to act within certain bounds of natural laws that exist. We can exercise that agency, make choices and act upon those choices. Logic dictates there is no purpose or meaning to life if we do not have some free will. We instinctively know we have power to act in some things without constraint of necessity or fate. We are bound or limited by physics but we are independent agents within our sphere of influence. We intuitively think or feel we are free. We therefore act at our own discretion. We are capable of responding to random chance with purposeful choices. Thus we can be held morally responsible and accountable for our choices and actions in both the deterministic world of physics and the indeterminate world of observable quantum mechanics that we are still discovering.

Absolute free will is logically incompatible with determinism because we do not control the universe. However, as individuals, we are able to take more than one possible course of action in any given scenario. There are obvious choices in life we can choose to follow. We can conceive and believe things. This proves some free will even though there are limitations on the choices available to us. For example, because I am not a fish, I do not have the choice of living underwater without some sort of breathing apparatus. It is determined beforehand that human life is incompatible with living unaided under water. I am therefore limited to certain pre-determined boundaries if I want to sustain life. In like manner, in some situations I have a limited number of choices I can make because of the randomness of life. I hope I never have to decide what to do if I am in a plane that is about to crash. I would have no control of the physics causing the plane to crash, but I still have some obvious choices I can make and act upon, like remain calm or panic.

As an argument against any kind of free will, consider the views of hard determinism. Determinists believe that our thoughts, feelings, actions and behaviors are all predetermined from the moment that time began at the big bang. A determinist advocates that we do not have any control over the state of the universe or the laws that govern the universe. Free will is an illusion, they say. You may think that your choices and actions have an effect on the universe but you are really no more than an observer. For a determinist, free will is a nothing more than a necessary delusion that allows us to build a society where praise and punishment actually mean something. Compatibilists hold individuals morally responsible for their actions as if they had free will. Although it doesn’t really exist, they say, we can act as if it does, thus providing a necessary condition for moral responsibility – accountability.

Following this logic, the universe is deterministic and bound by the laws of physics. Our bodies are bound by those same laws. If you are a materialist, you believe that all behavior is caused by chemical brain states outside of our control. In order for free will to exist, there must be a supernatural agent that is not bound by those laws to inject an input from outside the system; in other words, a God. I wish I could develop this further, but for now I will propose that there are only two arguments against free will. First, if determinism is the true state of things, then the will is not free because all events are caused and our actions are predetermined. Therefore, there is no moral responsibility or free will. The second argument against free will is indeterminism of random events or chance. If all our actions are caused by chance then we have no control, and therefore, again, no free will or moral responsibility. True free will requires we have control of outcomes. However, we do not control the universe or the laws of physics. If you think about it, we control nothing of this world or the universe. To prove free will, we must prove that we can control at least some things, thus becoming independent agents with power to act.

I don’t disagree with all the views of materialists or determinists. In fact, I readily concur with determinists that the laws of the universe are outside our control. I also concur that a large part of our body processes are apparently outside the control of at least our conscious mind and will. I can’t control the motion of the planets, the effects of nature, or prevent myself from dying someday. These things are determined. My bounds are set in these matters and many others. I also concur with indeterminism as it relates to many of the choices with which I am presented in this life. So many things are just random and purely by chance. I come across an object on the freeway that gives me a flat tire. It was pure chance that I happened to come upon that object and embed it in my tire first because I just happened to be there at that place and at that time. Random chance is just part of this life. So many things – most things – are out of my control.

So what do I control? There are many things over which I have control and thus free will. I control my responses to the choices I am presented in life. I can control my thoughts. I can control the things I put into my body. I control the things I say and the things I do. Nobody forces me to act a certain way or respond in a specific manner. I control my attitudes and my beliefs. I decide what I will do with my time, who I will go visit, what work I will do, what I choose to study. I may not choose many of the things that happen to me in this life but I can and do choose how I respond to those situations. I determine the character I build by using my free will adequately. My free will is limited to those things over which I have some control and have choices. I do not have free will when it comes to the laws of physics and nature. They are out of my control. In the things over which I do have control such as thoughts, beliefs and opinions I choose what I want to think about or believe. My thoughts are not caused and are not random. They are purposeful and demonstrate free will, especially when I act upon them. Therefore, my conclusion is that we have limited or adequate determinism and limited but genuine free will.

We Have Limited Free Will


We have limited free will. Within certain limitations, we can make choices and act upon those choices. Our choices are partially controlled and determined by outside forces and by the laws of physics. But we have agency to act within certain bounds of natural laws that exist. We can exercise that agency, make choices and act upon those choices. Logic dictates there is no purpose or meaning to life if we do not have some free will. We instinctively know we have power to act in some things without constraint of necessity or fate. We are bound or limited by physics but we are independent agents within our sphere of influence. We intuitively think or feel we are free. We therefore act at our own discretion. We are capable of responding to random chance with purposeful choices. Thus we can be held morally responsible and accountable for our choices and actions in both the deterministic world of physics and the indeterminate world of observable quantum mechanics that we are still discovering.

Absolute free will is logically incompatible with determinism because we do not control the universe. However, as individuals, we are able to take more than one possible course of action in any given scenario. There are obvious choices in life we can choose to follow. We can conceive and believe things. This proves some free will even though there are limitations on the choices available to us. For example, because I am not a fish, I do not have the choice of living underwater without some sort of breathing apparatus. It is determined beforehand that human life is incompatible with living unaided under water. I am therefore limited to certain pre-determined boundaries if I want to sustain life. In like manner, in some situations I have a limited number of choices I can make because of the randomness of life. I hope I never have to decide what to do if I am in a plane that is about to crash. I would have no control of the physics causing the plane to crash, but I still have some obvious choices I can make and act upon, like remain calm or panic.

As an argument against any kind of free will, consider the views of hard determinism. Determinists believe that our thoughts, feelings, actions and behaviors are all predetermined from the moment that time began at the big bang. A determinist advocates that we do not have any control over the state of the universe or the laws that govern the universe. Free will is an illusion, they say. You may think that your choices and actions have an effect on the universe but you are really no more than an observer. For a determinist, free will is a nothing more than a necessary delusion that allows us to build a society where praise and punishment actually mean something. Compatibilists hold individuals morally responsible for their actions as if they had free will. Although it doesn’t really exist, they say, we can act as if it does, thus providing a necessary condition for moral responsibility – accountability.

Following this logic, the universe is deterministic and bound by the laws of physics. Our bodies are bound by those same laws. If you are a materialist, you believe that all behavior is caused by chemical brain states outside of our control. In order for free will to exist, there must be a supernatural agent that is not bound by those laws to inject an input from outside the system; in other words, a God. I wish I could develop this further, but for now I will propose that there are only two arguments against free will. First, if determinism is the true state of things, then the will is not free because all events are caused and our actions are predetermined. Therefore, there is no moral responsibility or free will. The second argument against free will is indeterminism of random events or chance. If all our actions are caused by chance then we have no control, and therefore, again, no free will or moral responsibility. True free will requires we have control of outcomes. However, we do not control the universe or the laws of physics. If you think about it, we control nothing of this world or the universe. To prove free will, we must prove that we can control at least some things, thus becoming independent agents with power to act.

I don’t disagree with all the views of materialists or determinists. In fact, I readily concur with determinists that the laws of the universe are outside our control. I also concur that a large part of our body processes are apparently outside the control of at least our conscious mind and will. I can’t control the motion of the planets, the effects of nature, or prevent myself from dying someday. These things are determined. My bounds are set in these matters and many others. I also concur with indeterminism as it relates to many of the choices with which I am presented in this life. So many things are just random and purely by chance. I come across an object on the freeway that gives me a flat tire. It was pure chance that I happened to come upon that object and embed it in my tire first because I just happened to be there at that place and at that time. Random chance is just part of this life. So many things – most things – are out of my control.

So what do I control? There are many things over which I have control and thus free will. I control my responses to the choices I am presented in life. I can control my thoughts. I can control the things I put into my body. I control the things I say and the things I do. Nobody forces me to act a certain way or respond in a specific manner. I control my attitudes and my beliefs. I decide what I will do with my time, who I will go visit, what work I will do, what I choose to study. I may not choose many of the things that happen to me in this life but I can and do choose how I respond to those situations. I determine the character I build by using my free will adequately. My free will is limited to those things over which I have some control and have choices. I do not have free will when it comes to the laws of physics and nature. They are out of my control. In the things over which I do have control such as thoughts, beliefs and opinions I choose what I want to think about or believe. My thoughts are not caused and are not random. They are purposeful and demonstrate free will, especially when I act upon them. Therefore, my conclusion is that we have limited or adequate determinism and limited but genuine free will.

Thoughtful Discussion of Controversial Topics


I’ve been doing some critical thinking about a couple of recent statements made by J. Michael Bailey. He is the Northwestern psychology professor who has been the subject of so much media attention due to the live sex demonstration in his human sexuality classroom last month. You can Google the story if you want the details.

What intrigued me was the challenging nature of the defensive statements he offered when the story became public knowledge. He said that he didn’t expect everyone to agree with his decision to allow the demonstration to take place and that “thoughtful discussion of controversial topics is a cornerstone of learning.”

I happen to be enrolled in a critical thinking class right now so this idea caught my attention. While I don’t agree with his decision, I do agree with his statement. So I expected someone to take him up on his challenge, because he offered it as such. Maybe it is too soon but I have yet to see a serious response to his justification.

An Argument to Illuminate Reasoning

A couple of days after the story broke, professor Bailey continued his defense by saying that he would give an F to those who objected to his teaching method. He wrote that the responses conveyed disapproval but did not “illuminate reasoning.” Apparently he has yet to receive an explanation as to why his demo was a problem.

I hope someone with more knowledge of this subject will respond to his proposal for a thoughtful discussion and offer a few reasons why his demonstration was not the best choice. I’m looking for arguments that will illuminate reasoning and do more than to just express disapproval. I could use it when I argue this in my class.

The Man who would be Queen

A little more background information on professor Baily might be helpful.  He wrote and published a controversial book in 2003, The Man who would be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism. He admitted that he had sex with his research subjects and said he thought there was nothing wrong with this.

Coincidently, about that same year he found himself divorced and no longer the chair of the psychology department at Northwestern University. According to published reports from students, he is not a great lecturer, but makes up for it by presenting extremely controversial aspects of human sexuality in his classroom.

Teaching Should Benefit Society

I love to teach so maybe this is an area in which we can agree. Professor Bailey is an educator; therefore I’ll assume that it is his intent to help his students learn. As a professor of psychology, I would hope that it is his desire to prevent psychological damage in his students. After all, isn’t that the objective of studying the subject?

We study human behavior to understand it and to be able to deal more effectively with activities that are disturbing, distressing or problematic for the individual or society. For most practitioners, a goal of applied psychology is to benefit society. A university professor is in a particularly influential position upon civilization.

Pornography in the Classroom

Professor Bailey said he uses pornography in his classroom. “I don’t see anything wrong with showing pornography in the classroom provided it has some purpose in the class. Some can be a little explicit,” he said. “I teach the truth – as I understand it…[which] sometimes conflicts with people’s assumptions. That is controversial.”

Bill Yarber, a researcher at Indiana University’s Kinsey Institute and author of the widely used textbook Human Sexuality: Diversity in Contemporary America, said he’s never heard of a naked woman being brought to orgasm in front of a class of students. Watching a video is one thing but seeing a live demo is pushing things.

A commentary from a Catholic blogger about this episode illustrates a typical reaction, “Professor J. Michael Bailey’s Human Sexuality class has nothing to do with psychosexual development, morality, biology — nothing worthy of study; just an excuse for presenting risqué and deviant sexual behaviors as normative.”

Sexual Relations Should be Private

It is my contention that demonstrating the use of a motorized phallus to a group of students is not a legitimate form of sexual education, especially in the classroom. In fact, I will go so far as to say that viewing of pornographic material is equally inappropriate and unnecessary to meet the requirements of human sex education.

I believe that sexual relations should be expressed privately in marriage, between a husband and wife. I therefore believe that all public displays of sexual activity are inappropriate. I believe that pornography is harmful and destructive to the souls of those who create it and those who consume it. It is not needed for sexual education.

Professor Bailey’s demonstration was controversial because as far as I can tell, it was the first time live sex has been used in a classroom setting. But the real issue is how diametrically opposed this is to the values of virtue, modesty and respect for human sexual relations. It is degrading and cheapens it to something undesirable.

Achieving a Fulfilling Love

I think the comment of a student studying to be a therapist who then reported on her human sexuality class says it best for me. She stated that she had become a sexual zombie; that sex meant nothing to her because she had tried it all. She found no joy in sexuality. And yet she wants to become a therapist to fix others like her.

Pornography is any material describing or depicting the human body or sexual conduct in a way that arouses sexual feelings. Pornography degrades the heart, mind and spirit. It robs us of self-respect and the sense of beauties of life. It tears us down and does not lift us up. It does not help us achieve fulfilling human love.

I will be leading a classroom discussion of this current event in my critical thinking class in a few weeks. When I shared my subject with the professor he was pleased and said that I might be surprised to learn how many in the class feel the same way I do. That would be a pleasant discovery that I hope is not limited to my college.

Moving Toward Gospel Promises


All my life in the church I have heard the promises of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  These are held out as motivating ideas that are intended to help us resist the pull and attraction of worldly pleasures.  In this short essay, I would like to consider just one of those promises and the power for good that it should have in our lives.

Of course, the attraction of promises pre-supposes that you are the kind of person that is motivated by the “moving-toward” model.  If you’re not familiar with the idea, it comes from the book Unlimited Power by Anthony Robbins.  He states, “All human behavior revolves around the urge to gain pleasure or avoid pain.”

Tony’s shorthand for this is “pain or gain.”  Which one drives you?  Of course the concept is not original with Tony but he made it a focus of his seminars and books.  The idea has been around forever and stated in different ways by various thinkers.  The process is not absolute.  We move toward some things and away from others.

However, most of us live our lives predominantly either moving toward a goal or moving away from an unpleasant situation, either past, present or future.  You can easily determine your predominant model by describing something you desire.  Do you express it in terms of what it is or what it isn’t, what you want or don’t want?

For example, think about and describe your ideal home or family.  How about your ideal job?  I was surprised to note that I described my ideal home in terms of what I want, but my ideal job in terms of what I don’t want.  Maybe that’s because I am towards the end of my career and have seen plenty of negatives I want to avoid.

The greatest gift

What are the most important gospel promises that we should consider?  Let’s start with the big one – eternal life.  I’m not talking about being resurrected; that’s a given and a free gift from the Savior as part of the gospel plan.  I’m talking about being able to live the kind of life that God lives, with complete joy and fulfillment.

In modern revelation it is recorded that “there is no gift greater than the gift of salvation.” (D&C 6:13)  We are also told that “if you keep my commandments and endure to the end you shall have eternal life, which gift is the greatest of all the gifts of God.” (D&C 14:7)  Salvation in the fullest sense is defined as eternal life.

So just what is eternal life and how can we relate to it since we have nothing to which we can compare it in this life?  In order for something to be desirable and worthy of sacrifice, we must have at least some sense of its attractiveness.  In fact, it is up to the Lord to make us fully aware of what really comprises eternal life.

Salvation without exaltation

In the LDS Church, we commonly refer to exaltation as the kind of life that God lives, and consider it to be synonymous with eternal life.  We also consider it to be the fullness of salvation.  If we want to get a little more precise, let’s consider one common aphorism used to describe it: “Salvation without exaltation is damnation.”

This is a saying that engenders intense debate even among LDS scholars because I have read it online many times over the years.  I agree with that adage because for me, it appeals to my predominant “moving away from” model.  Yes, I confess that I am more inclined to make life choices in order to avoid unpleasant possibilities.

I consider the moving-away from model of thinking to be very mortal; not weak, just mortal.  But I’m grateful to know that the Lord is fully aware of this approach.  This is evidenced by the twofold promise of the Book of Mormon:  If you keep the commandments of God you will be blessed.  If you don’t, then you will be cursed.

Yes, tell me more about the negatives of a behavior and I will do my best to avoid it because I can see the results such behavior has produced in others.  The only way I am motivated by a promise of eventual reward is if I have experienced something similar, even if it is in a small degree.  My mortal mind doesn’t “get” eternal life.

Yet, in my heart I know that there is life after death.  I have had too many personal evidences presented for my consideration to feel otherwise.  I am satisfied that the concept of a spirit world is real; that there are unseen beings operating in a plane of existence just outside my mortal perception; and many times acting on my behalf.

Learning from opposition

So how does the Lord reach people like me who need a more solid understanding of eternal life in order to be motivated by the promise?  I guess I’m kind of like the child that hears from a parent, “if you work hard in school, you’ll have an easier life when you get older.”  It’s true, but it didn’t work for me when I was a child.

An easy life to a child is loving acceptance, lots of playtime, a warm, comfortable home, lots of food to eat and that safe, secure feeling that comes from knowing that dangers are far, far away, or even better, being oblivious to the concept of danger.  But such a life doesn’t work as we get older because we experience opposition.

And that’s why I am more motivated by an understanding of what eternal life will not be like.  I have experienced opposition, adversity, setbacks, disappointments and many painful shocks brought on by unforeseen and unwanted reality checks.  Because of these experiences, I know what I don’t want eternal life to be like.

Of course, I don’t set the rules when it comes to my quality of life after death.  But I do “get” the idea that I can determine a large part of that life quality by what I do or don’t do and how I respond to the life choices that are presented to me.  There really is a lot of truth to the idea that a man is about as happy as he decides to be.

Disappointments will cease

I don’t want eternal life to be disappointing.  I don’t think God is disappointed.  Even though we believe that his most important work is us, his children, I don’t think he is ever really disappointed in us.  I also don’t believe that his plans for us are ever really frustrated.  We will get out of this life what we came here to get.

What we came here to receive is an understanding and appreciation for eternal life – the kind of life that God lives – that we never could have accomplished without experiencing opposition, adversity, disappointment, trail, heartache, frustration and pain.  So whatever the outcome of our lives, we will appreciate eternal life better.

That appreciation comes by application of the “moving away from” model of life.  Although we may not understand all the promises of peace, happiness, freedom, personal power, contentment and joy that are held out to us, we now know what we don’t want eternal life to be like.  We don’t want it to be like our life here on earth.

Yes, I have experienced happiness in this life.  I have experienced success, some personal power, a measure of peace, plenty of freedom and lots of growth.  But even in achieving these things, I immediately realized that they were temporary and not complete.  They do not last because of the transient nature of mortality.

Moving away from pain

Do you see?  I now understand something about eternal life that I never could have fathomed before and something that I don’t want.  I don’t want good things to end as they do in this life.  I work long and hard to create my home and family life that I do not want to see come to an end.  I don’t want that work to be wasted or to fail.

So for me, moving toward gospel promises is meaningless unless I have something concrete to compare them to.  I am motivated to move away from something that I don’t want.  I don’t want sickness, physical pain and death; therefore I am attracted by the promise of a resurrection, which becomes more attractive the older I get.

I don’t want to be disappointed in myself in the life to come.  Carol has a way of expressing this that I find memorable.  She says, “Do you think God will take away the memory of being married to someone if you don’t live worthy of them?”  How tortuous that would be to see your mortal spouse and not be able to be with them!

So for me, gospel promises are more motivating when I think about what I might lose as opposed to what I might gain.  I don’t want to lose things that I have been given or have earned.  Yes, I believe we must earn or qualify for some blessings in the life to come.  Eternal life is a gift, but we must meet the requirements for it.

Conclusion

I’ll bet there are at least a half dozen theological ideas expressed in this essay with which non-LDS readers will disagree.  In fact, I’m certain that many of my LDS readers will also take exception to some of my statements.  That’s OK.  I welcome the dialog and hope that maybe something I have expressed has been helpful.

I love the Lord’s promises but I confess that I just don’t get some of them because of my weak, limited mortal way of seeing things.  I believe the promises and am certain that they will mean a lot more when I get to the spirit world.  Today, I just want to keep the good things I have gained from my experience with opposition.

Earlier in this essay I wrote that since we have no real concept of eternal life, it is God’s responsibility to make it appear attractive to us.  I mean that.  But how he does that may be different for each one of us.  In my case, I am enticed by the spirit whispering to me that in the next life, I will no longer have to endure temptation.

I love that promise.

Lessons learned from a failed LDS bookstore


I love books. I always have. There’s just something about holding a book in your hands and turning the pages to read it. A book to me represents an accomplishment. The author worked long and hard to get it into a format to be published. The editors made sure that there were no typos and that the grammar was acceptable to most readers. The printer did their best to produce a good product and the publisher spent lots of time and money to market it. But that’s not the accomplishment I’m talking about.

When I get a new book I usually buy it for one of several reasons. Highest on that list of reasons to buy is if it was recommended to me by someone I trust. Second is if the author is someone whose work I have read previously and with whom I am familiar. Third is if the book is one that is getting a lot of press or ranks high on a bestsellers list somewhere. But that’s not always why I buy. I’ll often pick up a book and just browse through the first page or two, skip to the back and read the last page or two and of course, read the front and back covers.

Building a library

Once I’ve decided that this book might be a worthwhile investment I buy it and put it on my bookshelf. “What? You don’t read it right away?” No, not usually – not unless it is something that directly relates to a project I am working on or was so intriguing when I bought that I just have to know what’s in it or how it turns out. Yep, I have dozens of books in my library that I have not yet read all the way through. They do eventually get read and I keep a mental list of which ones I intend to read and usually by what time frame I intend to read them.

When I have finally read the book and absorbed what the author tried to say, that book then turns into an accomplishment. I can say that I have read it and I have learned something from it. It may not be what the author intended but if I invest my time to read a book then I’m going to come away enriched in some way. I’m either going to have an increased understanding of a subject, or a different opinion of the author or both. That book has then become a part of me.

Why I love books

Do you know why I love books? Because my mother loved books. My mother loved to read and she taught me to read when I was very little. I love to read because my mother instilled in me a love of learning. We didn’t have a TV in my home when I was growing up because my mother wanted us to read. She read to us, we read to her and we especially read in the summer months. We were always visiting the library and checking out books to read. Mother was always buying us books to read and they always seemed to be books that had won awards.

Mother loved books so much and loved to discuss them that when she retired from teaching school she took her life savings and opened a bookstore. She was so excited to pick out the selection of all the books she loved. She arranged them just so on the shelves and eagerly anticipated the many enjoyable conversations she would have with customers when they came in to buy books or ask her what she recommended that day. It was just too bad that mother didn’t realize that not everyone shared her love of books, especially the ones she chose.

Selling LDS books is not easy

Mother specialized in LDS Books. The location for the bookstore was OK. It was in a nice new shopping center in the relatively affluent town of LaVerne CA. Oh she had regular books and bestsellers, both fiction and non-fiction but for the most part, mother invested her inventory in books from Deseret Book, Bookcraft, Horizon and other LDS publishers. I remember going to several booksellers conventions to learn about all the new books coming out that season.

It was a sad day when mother closed her bookstore. It didn’t even last a year. She had sadly miscalculated in her plans. She had mistaken her love of reading, learning, sharing and teaching for something that could be marketed and sold in the cold business world. She just couldn’t understand why the customers didn’t flock to her door. It takes time to establish a clientele and she had a lot of competition from the big resellers that could undercut her.

Summary and conclusion

I don’t look at mother’s bookstore as a failure although she often did. Mother taught me that you should go for your dreams even if they don’t come to fruition like you had hoped. Not only did mother pass on to me her love of learning but also her passion for sharing. I love to share things I learn because I saw the joy that sharing brought to my mother. Most of the time that joy is reciprocated as the teacher and the learner rejoice together. This blog is like my mother’s bookstore, except that thanks to Blogger, the initial investment is, well, nothing but my time.