Feb 1, 2014

Latter Day Saint: Addiction, Agency, & Freedom

Do addicts have a choice? Or do they lose all agency and responsibility? Here's my personal thoughts.

You've often heard the phrase "He lost his agency", and the word agency is frequently used interchangeably to describe what we gave up and lost after son....but can someone technically lose their God given agency here in this earth?

This is where freedom comes in.

I believe it is our choice to USE our agency submit our freedom to sin.

In terms of addiction, if I take a sip of alcohol, 9.9 times out of 10 I will continue drinking more. Did I give away my agency for the drink? Technically no. Did I give up my freedom? Yes. If I give up freedom am I any less responsible for my decision? No.

Why? Because it was my choice to entertain the thought of drinking.

Which thought of drinking led me to get up and grab my keys.
Which led me to driving to the store
Which led me to buying the alcohol.
Which led me to taking the can out of the box.
Which led me to opening the can.
Which led me to taking a drink.

Did I ever lose agency? No. Did I gradually lose my freedom with each choice? Yes.

Now out of all my actions, at what point did I START to give away my freedom though? Was it when l took the drink or bought the alcohol?
It started when l CHOSE to allow myself to entertain the idea of drinking. That's when l gave in to my addiction and was the beginning of giving away my freedom.

Once l grabbed my keys to drive to the store, that's when I willingly gave up ALL my freedom. There was no stopping me.
But after l became drunk, was l any less responsible for my actions?

Heck no.

Because I chose to entertain the thought.

The same goes for my sex addiction, the moment I entertain the thought and dwell on something l saw, the moment I entertain the thought to want to act out, the moment I allow myself to flirt with a man and want his attention, the moment I allow myself to be alone or to have one secret text/online conversation with a man, then game over.  

Dallin H. Oaks says it best:

"Free agency is a God-given precondition to the purpose of mortal life, no person or organization can take away our free agency in mortality.
What CAN be taken away or reduced by the conditions of mortality is our freedom, the power to act upon our choices. Free agency is absolute, but in the circumstances of mortality freedom is always qualified.
Freedom may be qualified or taken away (1) by physical laws, including the physical limitations with which we are born, (2) by our own action, and (3) by the action of others, including governments.
Lehi taught his son Jacob that “men are free [have freedom] according to the flesh” (2 Nephi 2:27). For example, in the flesh we are subject to the physical law of gravity. If I should hang from the catwalk here in the Marriott Center and release my grip, I would not be free to will myself into a soft landing. And I cannot choose to run through a brick wall.
A loss of freedom reduces the extent to which we can act upon our choices, but it does not deprive us of our God-given free agency.
Many losses of freedom are imposed by others. Interferences with our freedom do not deprive us of our free agency. When Pharaoh put Joseph in prison, he restricted Joseph’s freedom, but he did not take away his free agency. When Jesus drove the money changers out of the temple, he interfered with their freedom to engage in a particular activity at a particular time in a particular place, but he did not take away their free agency.
Satan, who sought to take away our free agency in the premortal existence, is not permitted to take it from us in this life. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that the devil cannot compel men to do evil; he has “power over us only as we permit him”. Elder James E. Faust elaborated this when he said, “Certainly he can tempt and he can deceive, but he has no authority over us which we do not give him”.
We should avoid any practices in which one person attempts to surrender even part of his will to another person or in which another person attempts to take it. Whether the means are chemical, behavioral, electronic, or others not yet dreamed of, such attempts run counter to the heavenly plan and further the adversary’s plan. Free agency, the power to choose and direct our thoughts and our actions, is a gift of God, and we should resist any means that would compromise it.
We should also avoid any behavior that is addictive. Whatever is addictive compromises our will. Subjecting our will to the overbearing impulses imposed by any form of addiction serves Satan’s purposes and subverts our Heavenly Father’s. This applies to addictions to drugs (such as narcotics, alcohol, nicotine, or caffeine), addiction to practices such as gambling, and any other addictive behavior. We can avoid addictions by keeping the commandments of God.
Some kinds of feelings (towards sin) seem to be inborn. Others are traceable to mortal experiences. Still other feelings seem to be acquired from a complex interaction of “nature and nurture.” All of us have some feelings we did not choose, but the gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us that we still have the power to resist and reform our feelings (as needed) and to assure that they do not lead us to entertain inappropriate thoughts or to engage in sinful behavior.
Different persons have different physical characteristics and different susceptibilities to the various physical and emotional pressures we may encounter in our childhood and adult environments. We did not choose these personal susceptibilities either, but we do choose and will be accountable for the attitudes, priorities, behavior, and “lifestyle” we engraft upon them.
Essential to our doctrinal position on these matters is the difference between our freedom and our agency. Our freedom can be limited by various conditions of mortality, but God’s gift of agency cannot be limited by outside forces, because it is the basis for our accountability to him. The contrast between freedom and agency can be illustrated in the context of a hypothetical progression from feelings to thoughts to behavior to addiction. This progression can be seen on a variety of matters, such as gambling and the use of tobacco and alcohol.
Just as some people have different feelings than others, some people seem to be unusually susceptible to particular actions, reactions, or addictions. Perhaps such susceptibilities are inborn or acquired without personal choice or fault, like the unnamed ailment the Apostle Paul called “a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure” (2 Cor. 12:7). One person may have feelings that draw him toward gambling, but unlike those who only dabble, he becomes a compulsive gambler. Another person may have a taste for tobacco and a susceptibility to its addiction. Still another may have an unusual attraction to alcohol and the vulnerability to be readily propelled into alcoholism. Other examples may include a hot temper, a contentious manner, a covetous attitude, and so on.
In each case (and in other examples that could be given) the feelings or other characteristics that increase susceptibility to certain behavior may have some relationship to inheritance. But the relationship is probably very complex. The inherited element may be nothing more than an increased likelihood that an individual will acquire certain feelings if he or she encounters particular influences during the developmental years. But regardless of our different susceptibilities or vulnerabilities, which represent only variations on our mortal freedom (in mortality we are only “free according to the flesh” [2 Ne. 2:27]), we remain responsible for the exercise of our agency in the thoughts we entertain and the behavior we choose.
Some people say, as the saying goes, were “born that way.” But what does this mean? Does it mean that persons with susceptibilities or strong tendencies have no choice, no free agency in these matters?? Our doctrine teaches us otherwise. Regardless of a person’s susceptibility or tendency, his will is unfettered. His free agency is unqualified. It is his freedom that is impaired. Other persons are more free; though they unwisely sample the temptations, they seem immune to the addiction. But regardless of the extent of our freedom, we are all responsible for the exercise of our free agency.
Most of us are born with thorns in the flesh—some more visible, some more serious than others. We all seem to have susceptibilities to one disorder or another, but whatever our susceptibilities, we have the will and the power to control our thoughts and our actions. This must be so. God has said that he holds us accountable for what we do and what we think, so these must be controllable by our agency. Once we have reached the age of accountability, “I was born that way” does not excuse actions or thoughts that fail to conform to the commandments of God.
Whatever our susceptibilities or tendencies, they cannot subject us to eternal consequences unless we exercise our free agency to do or think the things forbidden by the commandments of God. For example, a susceptibility to alcoholism impairs its victim’s freedom to partake without addiction, but his free agency allows him to abstain and thus escape the physical debilitation of alcohol and the spiritual deterioration of addiction.
Beware the argument that because a person has strong drives toward a particular act that he has no power of choice and therefore no responsibility for his actions. This contention runs counter to the most fundamental premises of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Satan would like us to believe that we are not responsible in this life. That is the result he tried to achieve by his contest in the premortal existence. A person who insists that he is not responsible for the exercise of his free agency because he was “born that way” is trying to ignore the outcome of the War in Heaven. We are responsible, and if we argue otherwise, our efforts become part of the propaganda effort of the adversary.
Individual responsibility is a law of life. It applies in the law of man and the law of God. Society holds people responsible to control their impulses so we can live in a civilized society. God holds his children responsible to control their impulses so they can keep his commandments and realize their eternal destiny. The law does not excuse the short-tempered man who surrenders to his impulse to pull a trigger on his tormentor, or the greedy man who surrenders to his impulse to steal, or the pedophile who surrenders to his impulse to satisfy his sexual desires with children.
There is much we do not know about the extent of freedom we have in view of the various thorns in the flesh that afflict us in mortality. But this much we do know, we all have our free agency, and God holds us accountable for the way we use it in thought and deed. That is fundamental."