Agency, sometimes combined with the word free, as in free agency, is our word for the day. You’ve probably encountered it when sports professionals leave a team and become free agents, open to a contract with another team. That might be the limit of how you've used it. Unless you’re Mormon. We talk about the word a lot, to mean “the ability and privilege God gives us to choose and ‘to act for [ourselves] and not to be acted upon.’”[i]
There’s a story—the oldest story—behind the concept of agency, from before the world was made. It’s the story John Milton refers to in Paradise Lost. It’s in the Bible, in Jude; Revelation 12; Job 38; Isaiah 14; as well as some additional Mormon scripture: Doctrine and Covenants 29 and 76; Pearl of Great Price books of Moses and Abraham.
|Satan, banished from Heaven, to the earth|
Paradise Lost illustration by Gustave Dore
That is to say, I am not coming up with this out of whole cloth. With that prelude, here’s my retelling.
Long ago, before the world was, God the Father met in heaven with his spirit children to present His plan. He would create a world for His children, where they could receive a body, learn to choose right from wrong, and progress as His children. The plan included choosing to go to the earth, which would be separated from God’s presence, where the children would be tested and tried. And because they would make errors, and be no longer perfectly clean, they would need a way back, so there would be a Savior provided, who would live a perfect life and then suffer for the sins of the world, overcoming death and opening the way for all who repented to return to heaven, to their Father.
Father asked who would be willing to become our Savior. There were two responses.
One was from the spirit brother we called Lucifer, who said, “Send me. I will make sure no children are lost. I will take from them their agency—their free will—so they will make no mistakes and can all return unchanged. But I insist that, for my success, I be given all the glory.”
Another said, “Send me. I will follow Thy plan, and the glory be Thine.” This was the spirit brother we call Jesus Christ. The Father chose the Son who would follow His plan. It was essential to His plan that His children be given their agency, so that they would learn to choose good over evil. That is the only way they could become more than they were in the beginning. God would force no one back to Heaven.
Lucifer was angry that Father did not forego His original plan and go with Lucifer’s pointless, no-growth plan. And Lucifer rebelled against the Father. It may be that, because he was unwilling to suffer for the sins of others, he assumed no one would do such a thing—so the only workable way was to take away free will, to coerce. Or it may be simply that he was looking for a way to gain glory without sacrifice—the first con, trying to get something for nothing.[ii]
He used his persuasion to gain many followers—one third of the hosts of heaven. These chose never to be born to the earth, and to rebel against God. For this they were cast out of heaven. They are the cause of evil we face on this earth—trying to make us miserable like unto themselves. Their leader, Lucifer, is called Satan here. He continues to try to take away our agency—convincing us we have no control over our passions, no control over any good coming in our lives, no control over addictive substances and behaviors.
He is subtle and cunning. But he can only gain our free agency if we give it up to him.
So, how does this relate to the Spherical Model? Coercion is a southern hemisphere quality. You can’t use coercion to get to the northern hemisphere. Coercion is used by people who either aren’t aware there is a northern hemisphere, and think the only options are between chaotic tyranny and statist tyranny; or who crave to be the controllers and therefore want to stay in the southern hemisphere of tyranny, widespread poverty (except for the elite controllers), and savagery.
For the northern hemisphere, where you find prosperity and civilization, people have to choose to rule themselves. Never in history has a nonreligious or anti-religious people succeeded in self-rule. Individuals, a critical mass of them, have to choose to govern themselves. Government that is granted only limited powers—to protect the God-given rights of the self-governing people—is useful. But, as with fire, requires careful control.
Freedom is required in order to choose goodness. Chosen goodness is required for prosperity to spread and grow. Chosen goodness is required for civilization to develop and spread.
Where there is coercion, there is savagery. No religion or government that coerces adherence can be God’s way; that is Satan’s way. Existence of coercion is a way to tell whether a way of thinking fits in the southern or northern hemisphere.
The most powerful disciplinary tool of a religion should be excommunication, so that the religion can determine its consistent doctrines. But a religion shouldn’t have the right to inflict physical punishment or imprisonment, and certainly not death.
So, the Inquisition, as far as we can tell from history, which used torture to coerce adherence, was savage. Enslaving the nonbelievers in ancient Egypt was savage. Burning nonbelievers to death, like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in ancient Babylon, is proof of wrongness.[iii] Throwing Daniel in the lion’s den for his difference in belief is an example of savagery. The Extermination Order allowing for the murder of Mormons in Missouri in the mid-1800s was savage.
Beheading nonbelievers in Iraq is proof that ISIS is savage. It’s ironic that the people trying to coerce the world into thinking as they do call us the Great Satan, while using Satan’s plan to accomplish their savage ends. This is not simply a difference of belief that we should respect; this is an attack upon our agency—a continuation of the War in Heaven, between Lucifer’s plan to gain power and control over us for his personal glory, and Heavenly Father’s plan for our happiness through allowing us to choose good.
Choosing Satan’s way always leads to the misery of coercion, poverty, savagery—and ultimate death. Choosing Father’s way always leads to the happiness of freedom, prosperity, civilization—and ultimate eternal life.
I choose happiness and life.
[ii] I first heard the “something for nothing” version of this story from David A. Bednar in a conference in Houston in 2010. A similar talk was given by Robert D. Hales in the worldwide General Conference of October of that year (linked in footnote i). I found that the concept of agency is something of a theme for Elder Hales; he has been speaking on that subject for decades.
[iii] The account of the three brothers thrown in the fiery furnace, and saved by angelic help, is found in Daniel 3. Besides various historical evidences of this practice, such as the Salem witch trials, or Joan of Arc, additional incidents of mass execution for difference of belief are recorded in the Book of Mormon: Alma 14; 3 Nephi 1.