Jesus Christ: Inspiration and/or Aspiration

Are we morally creative agents?

A distinction that I’ve given some thought to lately is that between “Inspiration” and “Aspiration”. This isn’t to say that there necessarily has to be some deep divide between these two concepts, but it can be useful to think of them separately. I believe that most LDSs see Jesus Christ as more of an “aspiration” rather than an “inspiration”. This means that he is our model or our ambition (in the sense that we try to do as he has done), before he is our motivation to take creative action in our unique circumstances. This is not to say that we do not see him as our “inspiration”; but we tend to look at him (and “history” in general) as providing a “model”, “example”, or a “standard to attain to”; before a point of departure to help us forge our own particular paths in life. Once again, this isn’t to say that we do not already do this to some extent; but we tend to see ourselves trying to get where these examples of the past have already been more than seeing ourselves moving in a unique direction because of the inspiration they’ve been.

This manifests itself in things such as sacrament talks, where the “standard” talk is a mixture of scripture, quotes from past leadership, and examples how these things have played out in our lives. We strive to replicate the great talks of the past (sometimes literally when someone approaches the pulpit and reads a general conference talk rather than giving their own), and to attain to the expectations generated by assignments to speak on certain universal topics such as “faith”.

I’m wondering what would happen if we were to emphasize the “inspirational” aspect of Jesus Christ (and our history in general). Would this help to fix some our problems such as the monotony of sacrament talks, or the homogenaeity of our cultural constitution? Being realistic, this wouldn’t solve the problems entirely; but sacrament meeting could become a place where we hear people speaking about their unique paths of moral creativity (what does it mean for instance to be a Mormon “family” where it is the second marriage for both parties, who have children from the previous relationships, and the ex-es are still on good terms with children?).

Theoretically speaking this would mean accepting a (larger?) tension between our continually changing circumstances and the past models of our history. To put it succinctly, it becomes less a question of “what would Jesus do”, and more a question of “what would I do, given Jesus as my inspiration”?

11 Replies to “Jesus Christ: Inspiration and/or Aspiration”

  1. Christ our “aspiration” or our “inspiration”? Interesting distinction smallaxe.

    Aspiration feels less personal to me. As a “model” or “example” I feel more insulated from Him than when I think of Him as my inspiration.

    “Ambition” is better but, “inspiration”…it’s as if I am already moving closer to him.

  2. You lost me when you put it succinctly. I thought you were making the distinction between What *did* Jesus do when he was in a similar circumstance (aspiration)? and What *would* Jesus do were he placed in my current circumstance (inspiration)?, but of course you close by saying (almost) the opposite. What did I miss?

  3. I’m not sure why you set this up as a dichotomy. I can be inspired by someone I wish to emulate. I can aspire to be like someone who motivates me. This is no dichotomy.

  4. Howard,

    Thanks for your thoughts.

    Brian J.,

    I thought about that as well when I was composing this. Let me try to clarify it this way: “What would Jesus do” puts me again in line with a particular standard–striving to do as I would imagine Jesus would. I admit that this is more “inspirational” than “What did Jesus do”. I think the question “What would I do, given Jesus as my inspiration”, however permits us to live in our own circumstances, so to speak. In other words, Jesus moves us forward rather than simply acting as a goal I am trying to up to.

    LDS Anarchist,

    I assume you agree that Jesus is inspirational? The question of where the inspiration comes from, while in the background of this discussion, is not immediately related to the discussion.

    Matt W.,

    I’m not sure why you set this up as a dichotomy.

    I’m not sure where you get the idea that I set this up as a dischotomy, given that I qualified the discussion with “This isn’t to say that there necessarily has to be some deep divide between these two concepts…” and “Once again, this isn’t to say that we do not already do this to some extent…”. A dichotomy would use the words “rather than” instead of “more than” as I do in the first paragraph.

  5. Smallaxe- I can agree with the sentiment that it is unhealthy, to a certain extent, to want to be someone or something we are not. To me a big difference for me is that we want to be like Jesus (this is inspiration to me) and we don’t want to be Jesus. (aspiration).

    Sorry I totally glossed over the main issue being treading ground already trod as opposed to venturing off in a unique direction in my first reading. To get back to that, the problem becomes whether or not we believe there is such a thing as a unique direction or not. (Many LDS don’t) second, a challenge becomes what we are desiring to achieve. Are we seeking some sort of individual uniqueness or are we seeking after in-dwelling happiness with our father in heaven?

  6. smallaxe,

    Ahhh, I get it. “What would” and “What did” can both be seen as ways of emulating/aspiring to be like Jesus (the former being a hypothetical Jesus and the later being the actual Jesus). Still, I wonder if even the “purely inspirational” ‘what would I do, given Jesus as my inspiration?’ isn’t itself ultimately aspirational. What is it that we find so inspirational about Jesus, if not ultimately the belief that through being like him we can be one with him? In other words, Jesus inspires me to do a lot “of my own free will” (D&C 58:27) (inspirational), but to what end?

    Which is not to say that the distinction isn’t valuable (and definitely not exclusive), just that I wonder how it should be framed.

  7. Yeah, I, too, get it. I think it comes down to the number of right choices that can be made in any given moment.

    Certainly, there are moments where there is only one right choice to be made and the phrases “would would Jesus do” and “what would I do, given Jeses as my inspiration” would equate to the same singular right choice.

    But also just as certainly, there are moments where there is more than one right choice that can be made and in those instances, the two phrases might not equate to the same choice. Nevertheless, each choice is “right” and equally good as the other. (See D&C 80: 3. Sometimes “it mattereth not.”)

    At other times, there are multiple right choices to be made, but one would do the most good, whereas others would do lesser good. Yet, all could be classified as good works. So, sometimes equally right choices can be classified as good, better and best. In these instances, obviously, doing what Jesus would do would be the way to go, if we want to do the most good at that moment.

    So, I think both of these phrases are useful, depending on the circumstance. I believe that the Holy Ghost, if we use it so that the truth of all things is manifest to us, we will be able to see more clearly when there is only one right choice, when there are multiple equally right and good choices, and when there are multiple right choices which are varied in their sphere of influence or the amount of good effect they have on people. Once this distiction becomes clear, we can decide which phrase to use to guide our behavior: “what would Jesus do” or “what would I do, given Jesus as my inspiration.”

  8. Which is not to say that the distinction isn’t valuable (and definitely not exclusive), just that I wonder how it should be framed.

    I agree completely. This has just been something I’ve been thinking about and wanted to use the occasion to think out loud. I guess one of the questions this raises is whether “becoming like Jesus” means losing our indivduality. There is also the issue, theologically, if Jesus has in a sense “done what we have done” as far as the atonement is concerned. In this light we are creative in only a very limited way. I’d be interested to hear more of your thoughts.

  9. LDS Anarchist (#8), isn’t “good,” “better,” and “best” all relative to the individual’s experience and context?

    Cool handle, BTW. I’m also an anarchist (well, anarcho-capitalist, to be specific. Sorry Chris!).

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