Agency and laws


mordorbund
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I've noticed whenever we have a lesson on Agency in church, comments are usually shared about Soviet Russia and how agency was limited by enforcing atheism. What are your thoughts on law and Agency?

Can political laws restrict Agency? If so, in what way?

(I know there's another thread on agency going on right now, but it has another focus and I didn't want to detract from it.)

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I've noticed whenever we have a lesson on Agency in church, comments are usually shared about Soviet Russia and how agency was limited by enforcing atheism. What are your thoughts on law and Agency?

Can political laws restrict Agency? If so, in what way?

(I know there's another thread on agency going on right now, but it has another focus and I didn't want to detract from it.)

Interesting thing about the question is many answer it based on the issue itself rather than principle.

Commie Russia outlaws religious worship, many will say it violates agency.

State bans SSM or gambling, and they say people still have the agency to do that they just have to break the law, and they still have the choice to break the law. (Which would also be true of Christians in the USSR.

I would say no. Laws can restrict it, make it harder to act on agency, but it can't fully take it away.

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Agency is about law. not commandments, but law, big difference. A commandment may change, but a law does not.

Agency contains two choices. one of those choices leads to "LIBERTY" the other leads to "BONDAGE"

(Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself. )

when we choose liberty, we gain more choices until we reach perfection and all choices are available to us.

when we choose captivity, we loose choices until we have none left.

how does this apply to Law vrs Commandments? look to the temporal world for a type. we can fly (more choices) because we understand and bring ourselves into compliance with the laws that govern flight. we use the laws that regulate gravity and thrust and high and low pressure systems and build composites and engines..... and make planes. by bringing ourselves into compliance with the laws we can achieve desired outcomes.

EVERYTHING that comes from Father is both temporal and spiritually tuned to bring about the desired outcome of eternal life and joy.

*******************

Man may remove some choices (this is really freedom, not agency) , but not the ones that will enable you to gain eternal life. you can always forgive and love.

Abinadi was in chains, and put to death, most of his freedom and choices were removed by man.

his agency remained. He was still able to choose to follow the Lord. His is now worlds without end. how would you picture his agency now compared to those who put him to death?

these things are NOT the same:

freedom

choice

agency

liberty

we cannot be "free to choose liberty" if they all mean the same thing.

greater obedience to God yields greater freedom.

now watch this:

feel free to pm me with questions.

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when we choose liberty, we gain more choices until we reach perfection and all choices are available to us.

when we choose captivity, we loose choices until we have none left.

*******************

Abinadi was in chains, and put to death, most of his freedom and choices were removed by man.

his agency remained. He was still able to choose to follow the Lord. His is now worlds without end. how would you picture his agency now compared to those who put him to death?

I agree with most of what you wrote. I have some follow-up questions about Agency being limited or expanded based on a choice.

Let's say my twin brother and I go on different paths. He chooses a morally and physically upright life, while I choose to take up chain smoking and heavy drinking. I have heard it said (similar to what you wrote) that now he has more choices (sometimes the claim is made of more Agency) than I do because he is free to run farther, longer, etc than I. He can wake up without the need to grab a cigarrette in the morning. The flip side of the coin is that he can't hold his liquor like I can, nor can he smoke a full pack of cigarettes without physically wretching. So it looks like I have the freedom to make some choices that are unavailable to him.

Is his Agency really greater? Does he have a larger choice set? Or do we still have the same Agency but a different choice set?

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ok, its really really tough to write out how this works.

it takes hours to do just a introductory class on it.

there are two choices, each has a path, and a destination.

_______________ O

_______________ O

its easy to get liberty and bondage mixed up because you are BOUND in both cases.

in the first case, you have to CHOOSE the destination (or outcome) and then if you want that outcome you MUST bind yourself to the path (or action).

this is liberty.

in the second case you CHOOSE the path (or action) (normally this is done reactionary) and then you are BOUND to the outcome.

Binding YOURSELF to the path (or action) is called liberty

being bound to the destination (or outcome) is called bondage.

now understand this is just how we do it. the law is what says what path leads to what destination.

the natural man will choose bondage each time because the "path" is always easier on that road because the consequences come later.

Father knows the end of all paths. and even though you may be able to smoke a pack a day and hold your liquor, while winning footraces. it cannot lead to eternal life. it is bondage.

Agency is the stewardship (you are an agent) and ability to choose between different outcomes pertaining to eternal life or captivity.

Freedom is the ability to act on a choice.

you can have choices without having agency, but you cannot have agency without choices.

liberty is the result of a choice, or the thing you choose, not the act of choosing or the ability to choose.

Edited by threepercent
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IMHO, the key factors in agency are a) ability to act, b) ability to receive consequences for our actions, and c) accountability for our actions to a higher power.

b) and c) are impossible without some form of law.

I agree with Webster that the idea of agency is closely allied with the idea of stewardship--an agent acts on behalf of the principal, just as a steward acts on behalf of the landlord. And Jacob teaches that man is an agent unto himself--in other words, we are both principal and agent, both landlord and steward. We have the power to make the contract, and are in turn bound by that contract.

Edited by Just_A_Guy
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Is his Agency really greater? Does he have a larger choice set? Or do we still have the same Agency but a different choice set?

My opinion: In such a hypothetical, you both have more or less the same agency. But his will be profitable to him in the long run; yours would be of no value to you.

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I agree with Webster that the idea of agency is closely allied with the idea of stewardship--an agent acts on behalf of the principal, just as a steward acts on behalf of the landlord. And Jacob teaches that man is an agent unto himself--in other words, we are both principal and agent, both landlord and steward. We have the power to make the contract, and are in turn bound by that contract.

I agree with what you've said, especially the parts I've underlined in the quote above. I did not specifically say those things in this post, however, so I'm not sure if you're attributing those ideas to me or not, but I have said similar things in other forums.

The Book of Mormon says that men can act for themselves in five places, and the D&C and Moses say that men are agents unto themselves in five places. I began seeing this in college about 20 years ago. Using this meaning of agency (which seems to be indicated by the scriptural usage of the word agent), men legally represent themselves as an agent acts for and represents his principal, and are thereby bound to the consequences of their actions as the principal is legally bound by the actions of his agent.

Just_A_Guy: Where did you come up with your understanding of agency? Was it from the manuscript you read several years ago, or have you added to that understanding since then?

Because of my definition of agency, I have not participated in the original question of this post:

Can political laws restrict Agency? If so, in what way?

I have a different view of Agency from most in the church. I understand the intent of the question, but since I view doctrinal agency as the legal foundation on which accountability rests, I do not believe that any external entity can touch it. Do I believe that governments can restrict freedom? Absolutely. But Freedom and Agency (using my definition) are not the same.

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Webster, my understanding hasn't changed much since then, but it has been refined a little bit by law school and being exposed to the legal application of terms like "contract" and "agency".

I generally agree with the distinction between "freedom" and "agency" as it has been posted here. In a theological sense, I think the agency relationship can only work if it's predicated on some sort of God-given law of cause and effect, of consequences, of relation between principal and agent. Take away law, and you've taken away agency (and that, as per the manuscript you mention, is actually what Satan proposed to do).

In the political sense, though: Assuming yours and my view of agency are lining up, then according to that view it seems logical that political laws can only restrict agency inasmuch as they limit consequences--limiting choice is irrelevant. To a certain effect, many of our laws do just that--which is why criminals in our society get free room and board.

But before we condemn secular government for "taking away our agency", we should bear in mind that God Himself has actually encouraged us to take some actions that technically restrict "agency"--for example, under inspiration King Benjamin urged his hearers to share their means with the poor without regard for how they came to be in that situation; whereas in a strict "agency" scenario Benjamin would have limited his advice to sharing only with the "deserving" poor.

At any rate, whether we're talking about limiting choices or consequences--our relationships with all kinds of authority figures (be they government, Church, or parents) are probably not going to be ones of absolute agency; because consequences can certainly be manipulated by authority figures and I think that as a practical (versus theoretical) matter, choice can be limited as well. Where I think we must, and do, have perfect agency, is in our relationship with our Heavenly Father and in the way we promote our own spiritual growth.

Edited by Just_A_Guy
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Sorry to keep monopolizing this, but just wanted to add the Webster's 1828 Dictionary entry for "Agency" (as per GospeLink 2001):

A'GENCY, noun [Latin agens. See Act.]

1. The quality of moving or of exerting power; the state of being in action; action; operation; instrumentality; as, the agency of providence in the natural world.

2. The office of an agent, or factor; business of an agent entrusted with the concerns of another; as, the principal pays the charges of agency.

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you can have choices without having agency, but you cannot have agency without choices.

Very good.

Also, to add to what you've said, it seems some people confuse "having a choice" with "making a choice." In order to have agency you do not have to exercise it. Many times agency is shown by simply not deciding to do something. In the pre-mortal existence many chose not to use their agency to choose against Father's plan, while many did exercise it.

Adam is a prime example. In the Garden of Eden Adam could either eat of the forbidden fruit, or not eat of it. There is nothing in scripture saying how the tree of life stood in opposition to the forbidden fruit. In fact, it didn't need to be present at all for Adam to exercise his agency. As long as he had a choice to do it or not do it. But, if you remove one of the options, leaving only 1, then even though you have agency (or the ability to choose), you do not have anything to choose between (or you do not have freedom to exercise choice).

You said, "you cannot have agency without choice" where I assume you mean you cannot exercise agency without choice. Some will say you still have agency even when your choices are limited, and they are right. But, if agency cannot be exercised it is not real agency. Just having the ability to act or choose is not enough of the equation to truly be able to use your agency. You must also have the freedom to use it. Choosing not to do a thing is the exercise of agency, but to not have the freedom to make a choice, even though you are able, is not real agency.

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and are thereby bound to the consequences of their actions as the principal is legally bound by the actions of his agent.

I view doctrinal agency as the legal foundation on which accountability rests, I do not believe that any external entity can touch it. Do I believe that governments can restrict freedom? Absolutely. But Freedom and Agency (using my definition) are not the same.

Yes. However, if you do not have the freedom to choose something you cannot be held responsible for not choosing it, even though you had the ability.

I really like Elder McConkie's quote I used in the other thread. He ties agency in with both ability and freedom. The ability is what you are referring to. This ability can never be taken away no matter what your condition or situation. But, your freedom to choose something certainly can be.

Without both ability and freedom you cannot exercise your agency.

Ability can be explained by looking at a small child, or someone who is mentally limited. They may not have the ability to make certain choices.

Freedom is a little easier to see.

And, by the way, in order to exercise agency we must also have options, or a choice.

I like this scripture and how it relates to agency:

Gen. 1:

26 And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

• • •

28 And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

Without this "dominion" we could not be responsible or accountable. It was the driver for setting up man's ability to exercise his agency, and gave purpose to his actions.

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man cannot rob man of agency.

I strongly disagree with that. Man can murder man, or force an addiction to mind-altering agency-robbing drugs on man, or beat man in the head until his brain no longer functions correctly and man is unable to chose between good and evil any more.
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Yes. However, if you do not have the freedom to choose something you cannot be held responsible for not choosing it, even though you had the ability.

I really like Elder McConkie's quote I used in the other thread. He ties agency in with both ability and freedom. The ability is what you are referring to. This ability can never be taken away no matter what your condition or situation. But, your freedom to choose something certainly can be.

Without both ability and freedom you cannot exercise your agency.

So if the President signs a law that says "if you are caught praying, you will be thrown in the lions' den", he has clearly restricted your freedom. There is no need to praise a Daniel because he clearly cannot exercise his agency.

Or are you using freedom in a different way?

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I am using it as Elder McConkie used it.

Freedom means you must be free to choose. Simply having choices isn't enough. Having choices and having the ability isn't enough either. If you are not "free" to choose, then you are restricted.

This is why "laws" are such a bad example. No matter what laws are made you can still choose not to follow them. Laws do not restrict your agency. You can choose not to follow.

In a sense, each new law provides you with yet another opportunity to exercise your agency. As such, God's laws are not limiting, but freeing.

The agency I am talking about centers around the ability and freedom to choose right and wrong, not legal or illegal.

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Take away law, and you've taken away agency (and that, as per the manuscript you mention, is actually what Satan proposed to do).

I don't know that anyone can take away law. I believe that eternal law is like justice. If God tried to remove either of them, He would cease to be God.

In my scenario, Satan wouldn't be able to tampter with eternal law. I think he claimed he could remove accountability by preventing men from becoming agents unto themselves. I think he tried to convince others that he could suspend accountability and agency (in the legal sense you and I have been referring to) by preventing men from gaining an understanding of good and evil. Even under God's plan, those without this knowledge are unaccountable, and not agents unto themselves in the legal sense. Without accountability he could claim that we could have a mortal experience, make our own decisions, do whatever we wanted, but not be held accountable for anything we did. (I don't believe he could actually do this; he just had to be able to convince others that he could.)

In the political sense, though: Assuming yours and my view of agency are lining up, then according to that view it seems logical that political laws can only restrict agency inasmuch as they limit consequences--limiting choice is irrelevant. To a certain effect, many of our laws do just that--which is why criminals in our society get free room and board.

I see your point. In that way governments could screw up agency, but in this life only.

I was referring to the idea of agency from an eternal perspective. Governments can limit choices, they can screw up consequences so evil is rewarded and good is punished, but from the eternal perspective, God will hold each person accountable for their actions, and all will be rewarded or punished with perfect justice.

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I don't know that anyone can take away law. I believe that eternal law is like justice. If God tried to remove either of them, He would cease to be God.

In my scenario, Satan wouldn't be able to tampter with eternal law. I think he claimed he could remove accountability by preventing men from becoming agents unto themselves. I think he tried to convince others that he could suspend accountability and agency (in the legal sense you and I have been referring to) by preventing men from gaining an understanding of good and evil. Even under God's plan, those without this knowledge are unaccountable, and not agents unto themselves in the legal sense. Without accountability he could claim that we could have a mortal experience, make our own decisions, do whatever we wanted, but not be held accountable for anything we did. (I don't believe he could actually do this; he just had to be able to convince others that he could.)

Webster, have you seen Cleon Skousen's talk about the Atonement? My first exposure to this was a Portuguese translation of the talk I encountered on my mission, and I haven't gone over the English version recently. But as I recall, Skousen basically says that yes, Satan's plan was to remove consequences from law and save even the unrighteous--the result of which would be that the very elements would cease to recognize the justice of God and therefore quit obeying His commands. The result, Skousen hints (at least, if I recall correctly), would be a power vacuum that Satan would have been only too happy to fill.

It's speculation on steroids, but I think it's plausible.

I was referring to the idea of agency from an eternal perspective.

Oh, absolutely. I brought in the political angle because I wanted to at least take a stab at staying on the topic Mordorbund originally posited. ;)

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