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Thunder from the RightEzra Taft Benson in Mormonism and Politics$
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Matthew L. Harris

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780252042256

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: September 2019

DOI: 10.5622/illinois/9780252042256.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM ILLINOIS SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.illinois.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Illinois University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in ISO for personal use.date: 16 May 2021

The Cold War and the Invention of Free Agency

The Cold War and the Invention of Free Agency

(p.159) 6 The Cold War and the Invention of Free Agency
Thunder from the Right
Matthew Bowman
University of Illinois Press

This chapter focuses on Benson’s contributions as a vocal political activist in the 1950s and 1960s through his assumption of the presidency of the Church in the mid-1980s. In particular, it grapples with his elaboration of the notion of “free agency,” a foundational principle of Mormon theology enunciated in the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith’s teachings, which emphasized individual moral capacity and responsibility. Benson in particular rearticulated this idea to emphasize dual, and seemingly contradictory, principles: a moralistic libertarian political philosophy, which asserted that too much government was morally corrupting and a threat to “free agency,” and at the same time, loyalty and commitment to the institution of the LDS church. This chapter shows how Benson developed the notion of free agency from the Mormon tradition and the central place it assumed in Mormon theology by the end of his career.

Keywords:   free agency, Book of Mormon, apostle, prophet, accountability, moralism, federal government, Joseph Smith, sin

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