Tuesday, January 25, 2005

agency, freedom, and chess

A discussion in my class, “Teachings of the Living Prophets,” helped me to pull together some thoughts I’ve been having recently about agency. First, I think it is important to carefully define what is meant by “agency.” I would define agency as simply our ability to choose between different options. I would say that freedom is the number of options open to us.

Our teacher asked us what we thought the relationship between agency and obedience was. A common misconception holds that obedience to God’s laws actually limits our freedom. The familiar response to this misconception is that obedience actually increases our freedom. However, this response often seems vague as to just how this works. A guy in my class certainly felt this way. He said that when someone had made no choices at all (a difficult state to imagine), they were in the state of maximum freedom. As they chose to be disobedient or obedient, they began to limit themselves in different ways. In other words, he said, there was sort of a spectrum of freedom in which the middle was the point of greatest freedom and either side held less freedom. He said that, for example, as people pay tithing, they limit what they can do with their money or as they go on missions, they limit what they can do with their time. He said that the more laws you keep, the less free you are.

The reason people tend to feel this way is that they don’t understand the connection between agency, freedom, and progression. God’s laws are specifically designed to help us progress and to help us to help others progress. In that way, they’re much like a college education. By going to college, I am consciously limiting myself to certain actions. Instead of studying, I could spend all of my time working in a fast food restaurant or playing Halo 2 or working on this blog. But when I graduate from college, I will have options opened to me that are unavailable to people who do not graduate from college. I will be able (hopefully) to obtain a job that is more fulfilling and higher-paying than any job I could get without a degree.

Additionally, the experience of learning and of being around intelligent people will have opened up a whole new world to me that is richer and more varied than that enjoyed by those who choose to have less education.

Another way to look at it is to compare our life to a chess game. A novice, when first playing chess may feel that he is completely free. He can move the pieces any way he chooses (within the rules of the game). However, he will find that he tends to lose pretty often. As this novice begins to understand the game better, he will feel that he is constricted because he knows that certain moves will result in a loss of the game. He still has the freedom to move this way, but he will not. This is about the stage that my classmate finds himself in. He feels constricted by the laws of God but feels that they are better than the alternative. However, as a chess player advances still further, he will find new options opening up to him. Suddenly he will begin to think in terms of combinations of moves and of grand strategies. These are options that he could have never before considered when he first began. He suddenly feels more free, and, what’s more, he tends to win the game.

To me, God is the ultimate chess champion. He has progressed past the point where he feels constricted by laws and has reached a stage that is freer than anyone else’s. He has the option of creating worlds and of even creating spirit children—options that we could never even consider at our stage of progression. Almost all of us are at the stage in which commandments seem to constrict us and we chafe at our lack of options. We just can’t see how these laws will allow us to become more free to win the game of life.

Agency exists so that we can exercise it righteously, thus gain more freedom so that we can exercise our agency more righteously. It’s like a circle except that it has direction so it’s really more of a spiral—an upward spiral we’re doing things right.


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11:56 PM  

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