Just What Is Moral Courage?

These seem to be lose thoughts, but let’s see if we

It is not long ago since I read Elder Christoffersson’s address Moral Discipline from October 2009 General Conference. Now I came back to similar thoughts after reading Pres. Eyring’s message about Moral Courage in the March 2010 Ensign.

The question that begs asking from my point is what moral courage actually is. If you read around the Mormon-themed blogs for a while, you’ll notice, that sooner or later usually you get different kinds of outlooks: The basic faithful Latter-day Saint, who thinks that it means doing the right thing, even if it isn’t popular; the questioning person, who is confused, when different messages seem to be coming through different conduits; the quasi-intellectual, who thinks that it means breaking the rules, regardless of cost; the “heretic”, who is suggesting something totally outlandish just for kicks.

What you don’t hear are the many thoughtful people, who think that it takes some time, effort and formulating to answer a question that is complex at best. By the time they would be ready to answer, the discussion has moved on to the next topic that seems to get clicks.

With that dig at the blogging ethos (and pathos, too), I will hazard some personal thoughts about what I define as moral courage in my personal life.

First, while I’m no friend of maxims–I think they too often trivialize real-life difficulties we might have with real lives–there seem to be some basic ideas that I have found enlightening.

To start with the Great Commandment–or the Golden Rule, if you prefer–I usually derive a simple maxim: Try to act in harmony with Love and Charity. That means that I don’t want to hurt anyone. However, to use a figure of speech, if one has a toothache, before getting rid of it, it may be necessarily to cause short-term pain to avoid even bigger and longer lasting pain in the future. To do that usually takes courage, whether the aching tooth be in your own mouth or someone else’s. (Especially if that someone else is much stronger than you!)

There are certain “thou shalt not” statements in the basic commandments given in the Bible and the Book of Mormon, along with the Doctrine and Covenants, that are not popular with some people. To follow the principles sometimes means being ridiculed. That may need courage, especially if you’re young and not used to it yet.

Furthermore, doing what you feel is right may invite the wrath of people, who think they are entitled to expect something else from you. Just in case, let it be stated that I don’t think the Lord’s commandments ever require us to be deliberately obnoxious toward others. However, if we have opinions we feel need to be heard by others, expressing them, however politely, may require courage. There are a number of live-wire issues that will always elicit strong condemnation from different zealots, rest assured.

Quite often I get the feeling there are many, who go through the motions of what they feel is expected of them, all the while resenting it. That may explain some of the vehemence with which sometimes even those, who state their thoughts quite politely.

Naturally, there are those of us, who believe, that the Lord meant what he said, when he said that not everyone, who calls unto him, “Lord, Lord!” will inherit his kingdom, but those who do his will. So yes, doing is important. As I have said before, if faith is dead without works, so are works without faith.

In all, I submit that it is better to be bold (courageous) in a cause that we mistakenly pursue than to be a coward in the right cause.

That is something I think is essential. The Lord stated quite strongly, that he isn’t impressed with “lukewarm” people; actually the condemnation on lukewarmness is almost as strong as hypocrisy.

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6 comments on “Just What Is Moral Courage?
  1. Paul says:

    In President Eyring’s message, he leads with this statement: “One of the purposes of mortal life is to prove to God that we will keep His commandments when that takes courage.”

    I infer from that statement that moral courage is the courage to keep God’s commandments, a personal choice, a personal act, even in the face of adversity.

    There are other examples in the scriptures, and they involve keeping God’s commandments — Daniel (who ended up in the Lion’s den), Joseph (who ended up in prison), and of course the Savior (who ended up on the cross). All exhibited courage in keeping commandments. (Granted, the Savior’s commandment to keep — his father’s will — was more than I am asked to do, but Daniel prayed; Joseph ran from temptation.)

    For me, sometimes obedience is easier when it accompanies difficulty; we can suit up for a big fight. But the day-to-day, front line obedience, day in and day out, requires a different kind of courage, a different kind of determination — a put-one-foot-in-front-of-the-other-and-keep-crossing-the-plains determination, a long distance run instead of a sprint. There’s courage in that effort, too, I think.

    • velska says:

      I do not disagree. I just mean that there can be a wider meaning to moral courage. And I wish to make some people think whether it really is more courageous to break all the rules than to keep them. I’d say that in the wider world there is always more pressure to break the Lord’s commandments, but there are also small communities, where there can be strong pressure to act according to the group’s moral norms.

      So my point may be more sociological than theological?

  2. Paul says:

    An interesting question, with an interesting corollary. Are there courageous acts that might seem to oppose even competing moral agendas. One things about the civil rights movement when courageous individuals battled racial prejudice even when some churchmen preached against it.

    There’s of course a similar temptation today to paint the battle for gay marriage with the same brush.

    • velska says:

      Exactly, Paul. I think it’s only natural to think of parallels. Of course, the civil rights had their sponsors and naysayers in both secular and religious circles.

  3. Lorie says:

    Power is integral to moral courage–moral courage requires power from within, and acting with moral courage increases one’s power.

    Where does power come from? I submit that it comes from faith. Faith brings power to one’s abilities and capabilities. Exploring how faith brings one to power is one of the basic reasons of this probationary existence on earth. Agency gives us the ability to explore faith to power.

    It is faith in what is true that thins the veil (think of the brother of Jared); obedience/compliance to divine truth/law increases faith to power. Moral courage comes from that power, which is based on eternal, natural principles of the cosmos.

    Anyone complying with natural laws will find additional power and light. If this seems circular, it is. Ever hear of “one eternal round?”

    Light, too, is basic to the quest of faith and each person’s powers. This quest leads to the power inherent in moral courage. Without it, one is confused and rather rudderless. But do not be misled!

    Questioning is not only significant, but required when acting on light, faith, and one’s personal quest of truth. The curious thing is that questioning with faith and obedience defines, yet enlarges the scope. Listening, then acting on one’s powers of moral courage, is faith and light. Growth, progress, and knowledge result. Beautifully interconnected, isn’t it?

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