I always hated story problems in elementary school. The idea behind them, presumably, is to get you emotionally invested and make it a bit more imperative to solve the problem.
For example, Sally has eight cookies to take to the home of her grandmother, who is infected with the coronavirus. If Sally gives two cookies to friends along the way, and another is stolen by a dog, will Sally catch COVID-19?
See? Rather than just a colorless equation, there is an actual imaginary person involved who needs our help.
In public school, the correct answer here would be Sally has five cookies left. But if this were a religious-based story problem, the answer is more complicated because it first requires more information.
Is Sally a Latter-day Saint? If so, was she wearing a mask the way that President Russell M. Nelson, her prophet, has counseled?
If Sally wasn’t wearing a mask, then the most likely gospel answer is she’ll be gone inside of a week. The scriptures are full of examples of what happens when the Lord’s counsel is ignored.
Granted, if she was wearing a mask, she still might not make it. The difference now is that at least she’ll go to the Celestial Kingdom for following the Brethren. Or so I’ve been told.
This is not, as you might think, a call for compliance or even disobedience. You might have a good reason for not wearing a face condom despite what church leaders have counseled, but it’s probably not a good idea to stop wearing a barrier just to show how independently minded you are.
I wear a mask. I put one on because it strikes me as a good idea when I go to the store, which is better than my wife striking me for not wearing one when I come home.
The real question here is why, if you believe that some people are tapped into the will of the Lord, you wouldn’t put their druthers ahead of your own.
Being something of an expert on self-determination regardless of the odds, I can tell you why: It’s because what we do is less important than why we do it.
There have been plenty of times when not only would I have refused to follow the counsel of the Brethren, but I also would have loudly proclaimed why I thought the idea was stupid.
Since I am a Mormon, polygamy springs to mind. Brigham Young could have blathered on about celestial marriage, and I still wouldn’t have taken another wife.
Why not? Because I wouldn’t have wanted to — that’s why. Hell, I still wouldn’t.
I also wouldn’t have given all my stuff to the church as a way of obeying the “united order.” And I definitely wouldn’t kill someone just because a church leader said I should. I would actually have wanted that person dead myself.
I’m fine listening to counsel from religious leaders. Most of the time, I agree with them — be nice, don’t bite anyone, help the poor, honor my marital vows, etc.
But having a prophet — or at least believing that you do — isn’t the same as having a brain. You still have to figure things out for yourself. Religion isn’t math. I suppose that’s why it’s called “counsel” and not a “commandment.”
Robert Kirby is The Salt Lake Tribune’s humor columnist. Follow Kirby on Facebook.