CTR rings are one of the most recognizable symbols of Mormonism. Every Mormon has at some point owned one of these little rings emblazoned with the letters CTR, which stand for “choose the right.” The rings are a cute little reminder to make sure that our moral lives are in accordance to doctrines of the gospel.
But what does choosing the right even mean? Even when we are “choosing the right”, how moral are Mormons?
To analyze these questions we can look at Immanuel Kant, a German philosopher who is considered one of the founders of modern philosophy. If we consider some of his ideas, we may find that even righteous church members are not as moral as they would seem.
In order to understand this claim, we need to define two different schools of philosophical thought; teleologists and deontologists.
Teleologists believe that the act becomes morally sufficient based on the consequences or benefits of the action. This philosophy is goal and outcome based. We make moral decisions to bring forth good results.
Deontologists, on the other hand, believe that the morality of an act comes from the act itself. In a deontologist believes that the end results are not important in considering whether to take the correct moral course. Rather, you should choose morality for the sake of being moral, and with no thought of reward.
Immanuel Kant was a deontologist, and stuck to this belief. In Kant’s worldview, an act can only be moral if it is “categorial.” This means that the act is done simply because it is the right thing to do, and not because we expect any reward. If we make a decision seeking reward, we are getting into “hypothetical” thinking, which means that an action is done for result. Participating in “categorial” thinking is the true measure of morality.
Granted, Kant was not a prophet, and should not be regarded as one. The scriptures and modern prophets are the true guides to life. But we can apply his lessons to help us understand ourselves. So, even though Kant was not a religious philosopher, his ideas of categorial and hypothetical thinking should ring true to many Christians. An analysis of the Pharisees of the New Testament shows deep-seated hypothetical thinking. Many times, they were rebuked by Jesus Christ because their actions were only done to be seen and get praise.
As Mormons, we like to think that we are above Pharisee-like behavior. We try not to show off our “religiousness” in public and try not to be judgmental of others. We may have various success in this, but not acting like a Pharisee is just the tip of the iceberg.
In order to be truly moral, we should not even make our choices because we want to go to heaven.
Often times, we get overly focused on the idea of eternal reward in our religion. I have fallen into this style of thinking a lot. Sometimes when I make decisions, my thought process revolves around whether I will make the grade to get into heaven.
This mindset is deep seated. How many times have we heard that the reason we follow commandments is because a) God told us to and b) it will allow us to get into heaven? Yes, these are both good things, but that line of reasoning removes the purely moral aspect of our choices. Instead, our thinking becomes hypothetical, and the morality of the action is lost.
I often hear people talking along the lines of: “If I weren’t Mormon I would…” I do this all the time, unfortunately. But this statement is morally incorrect. It implies that a person is only making moral decisions because of an outside force, which falls into Frederich Nietzsche’s definition of slave morality. Not much better is the statement that: “We obey commandments because that is what God wants us to do/because we will get into heaven.” Both these statements also imply that without the commands from God, we would not make moral decisions.
A better statement is: “I choose this way because it is morally right.”
The key is that morality is independent of religion. Morality does not exist because of religion, but religion exists because of morality. A person outside of the religion can make perfectly moral decisions because morality is not limited to a theological framework. Religion is not the genesis of morality.
So what is the point of religion then? For this question we need to abandon Kant’s philosophy. Religion is revealed morality. Through revealed religion, we are given the highest possible moral code. Eternal life, or living in heaven, is the reward for living a perfectly moral life. But, to live a perfectly moral life, we need to know what that life entails, thus the purpose of revealed religion. Revealed religion is the highest level of morality. When Mormons talk about “gaining a testimony of the church” what we are really saying is that a person has accepted the highest possible moral code. We do not “believe” in the church as an organization, we believe that the highest moral code is being revealed through the infrastructure of the church.
We must keep this in mind when we are making decisions. Obviously, Kant is not a religious leader and should not be held as one. But his philosophies can make an impact on our lives. Morality is absolute, and “keeping the commandments” is just living by the true moral code. If we were making decisions with perfect morality, we would not be making them to receive an eternal reward. Rather, we would make categorial decisions simply because it is the right thing to do.