Orson Scott Card: Extreme obedience is no virtue

It was not very long after the founding of the original Christian Church that the idea of holiness began to attach itself to activities that seem very strange to us today. Mormonism has no ascetics, no hermits, no monasteries.

Yet it is a common thing, among us mortals, to suppose that if it is good to obey a certain commandment, then it must be even better to hyperobey it -- to make the commandment more stringent than God required.

In ancient times, this led to the supposition that if we are supposed to master the passions of the flesh by occasional fasting, by chastity when unmarried, by abstaining from anger, and so on, then it must be even holier to abstain from all food except the minimum to sustain life, to allow the flesh no pleasure of any kind, or to withdraw from the company of men so that there is no temptation to anger, envy, or any other carnal sin.

The results quickly went to extremes, like hermits living on the tops of stone pillars, exposed to sun by day and cold by night, eating only what one's disciples lifted up in baskets on the ends of sticks.

Apparently these ascetics did not notice the irony that in their hyperobedience to one law, they made obedience to other laws impossible: How could a man alone love his neighbor as himself? Asceticism was, in the end, supremely selfish -- and as utterly focused on the flesh as the practice of the worst hedonist.

Don't imagine that Mormons are immune to the impulse. No doubt you've heard the tales of those who paid 11 percent tithing, so that in case they accidentally miscalculated, they would still be in compliance.

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