The Mormon Newsroom just posted a new think-y piece titled “The Quest for a Common Moral Framework.” A few years back the Newsroom posted a number of these reflective essays, such as “Approaching Mormon Doctrine“, but not so much recently. So this one is worth taking a look at. It seems like a spinoff from the intensive Religious Freedom initiative.
Rather than hoping or arguing for a common moral framework for society (which, I imagine, would only be seen as a good thing if was the Mormon moral framework that was adopted or enforced), the better approach is to start by recognizing the common legal framework that does exist. That legal framework, particularly criminal law, is informed by a general sense of right and wrong, but not by any particular religious viewpoint, at least in the 21st century. Outside of conduct that is prohibited by the law is a broad area of civil society where individuals and organizations pursue their own interests and goals, safeguarded by rights of free speech, assembly, religion, and free association. That is, people are guided by diverse moral frameworks, acting under a common legal framework.
At the end of the essay (unlike the title), it is in fact plainly acknowedged that “we may not agree on all the specifics of a common moral code.” And that is the point: We live under a common legal code but pursue different interest and projects in life, guided by our individual and differing moral codes. We like it that way. When we say, “Hey, it’s a free country,” that’s what we mean. Nobody wants to live under someone else’s moral framework, common or not.
Deep down, the Mormon psyche seems strangely attracted to the idea of a benevolent dictator rather than a messy democracy. Maybe that comes from examples in the Book of Mormon (kings and authoritarian chief judges are celebrated) or from our sketchy model of the City of Zion (whose officials are not elected). This shows through toward the end of the essay, where the anonymous author or committee rejects, as a model for the ideal society operating under a moral framework, the idea of “individual sailboats heading freely to self-chosen destinations” and instead argues for a world where “trains run on set schedules.” So the “common moral framework” that the Newsroom has in mind is Mussolini’s fascist Italy. No thanks. I’ll take the sailboats.