Yes, we’ve been remiss. No BOMBlogging since 1 Nephi, and it’s time to be finishing Alma. Truly sorry, everyone. There are several half-finished posts on the intervening books (you should see the doozy I half-wrote on Jarom, it’s AMAZING!), but I’m ready to just move on to the present.
So, here’s what I’ve learned from reading Alma: Mormon and Alma don’t think we are marionettes on a stage with two competing puppeteers vying for control. (Okay, actually nobody thinks that). What do they think we are? Two huge corporations vying for market share.
Each corporation is a huge cult of personality, basically worshipping their respective bosses. And you and I? We’re the employees. Witness Alma 3:27:
For every man receiveth wages of him whom he listeth to obey . . .
And Alma 5:42:
For whosoever doeth this must receive his wages of him; therefore, for his wages he receiveth death, as to things pertaining unto righteousness, being dead unto all good works.
I know the metaphor is obvious when you think about, but the point is, we don’t think about it– or at least not enough. What the Book of Mormon is telling us is that Heavenly Father and Satan both write us a paycheck every two weeks. Heavenly Father sends us wages for everything we did for him during the pay period, and likewise the Devil. Those of us who are truly ambitious will become loyal to one or the other, get out of the independent contractor trap, and take on a full-time job with insurance and bonuses and dental. Often, there will be a rather strict non-compete as well.
Some interesting ideas that arise out of taking this analogy too far, as I have done tonight. First, agency. What is agency, in the gospel sense? The ability to act for oneself. And yet, Mormon doctrine tells us that no one ever acts for oneself– we’re always acting under the influence of one of the bosses. What is agency in the legal sense? It’s the status in which one person (the agent) acts as the empowered representative of another (the principal). You see the link? The ‘agency’ which we believe empowers us to act independent of other intelligences is actually a relationship in which we act as the servant of another being. Whenever we exercise our agency, we are literally somebody else’s ‘agent,’ carrying out their will. And we can expect to be paid accordingly.
Second, respondeat superior. This is the legal doctrine that allows you to hold my employer responsible for an act I take against you while in the service of my principal. Again, this idea would limit our accountability in a sense, which seems unacceptable, until you realize that that is exactly what the atonement does. Once we have incorporated ourselves into the body (a word whose latin cognate is also the root of ‘corporation’) of Christ, our own bad acts are usually not held against us. Insignificant cogs as we are, we’re mostly judgment proof. It’s the boss that has the deep pockets, and it’s Him that will be called upon to pay the price.
Finally, at-will versus for-cause employment. At will employees may be fired at any time for almost any reason. For-cause employees are special– you can’t fire them unless you’ve got a pretty good reason for it, usually because the employee has done something bad. It occurs to me that covenants are a way of making oneself a for-cause employee. Through covenants, we bind ouselves to the boss, gaining special promises and special treatment, while also increasing our own obligations and standards of behavior. No covenant is unbreakable– we can always be dismissed for cause, but we also know that we’ll never be terminated at will either. It’s an extra bit of security in this cut-throat market.
While some of this thinking is a bit whimsical– meant to flesh out the implications of an analogy that sits there in plain sight but is rarely noticed– there’s clearly some real insight to be had by plumbing the depths of the employment model. It helps me to think that my every act not only advances my own agenda, but is done in the service of an interested principal, and one who will surely compensate me for my pains. The interesting thing about these wages is that there’s no standard currency here. Each employer pays in kind, out of his own company’s inventory.