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Religion Library: Mormonism

Human Nature and the Purpose of Existence

Written by: Stephen Taysom

According to The Book of Mormon prophet, Lehi, "Adam fell that man might be, and men are that they might have joy." Mormonism tends to take a positive view of the purpose of existence, with the ultimate goal of living "with God, as God." Humans are gods and goddesses in embryo, spirit children of God who have entered into mortality in order to gain a physical body, which according to Mormon theology is an integral part of divine life, and to undergo the testing of moral agency. 

Mormons view life as a training ground for the work that will continue after death, where faithful souls will continue to create and populate worlds and where they will impart the keys of the knowledge of eternal life to their own spirit children. Mormons hold that "the glory of God is intelligence" and it is thus no surprise that Mormons place a strong emphasis on education, and they believe that persons will take with them to the next life all knowledge and skills that they develop during their mortal life on earth. The accumulation of knowledge is coupled in the Mormon ideal life with the mastery of physical appetites and passions that naturally flow from corporeality.

Despite the view that the physical body is a gift and that life is a place to learn, grow, and experience joy, Mormon scripture follows the broader Christian tendency to see humans as "fallen" and thus in need of profound change. In fact, The Book of Mormon calls humans "carnal, sensual, and devilish," and warns that unless the "natural man" is shed through the process of being born again, the progression of the soul will be stifled. 

Part of the purpose of existence is to develop sufficient knowledge of God and humility of spirit to allow the loftier, more spiritual side of an individual to rein in the carnal elements. Mormonism thus shares with much of Christianity the view that the physical body introduces feelings and desires that may lead one away from God. However, Mormonism holds that the key to rectifying this problem is not to mortify the body, but to employ moral agency and spiritual refinement to bring the spirit into mastery of the body. Together, the body and the spirit will work together to create a being of great power.  Founding Mormon prophet Joseph Smith taught that any being with a body has power over a being that lacks one. Thus the idea of carrying a body throughout eternity is a central element in Mormon thought.

Mormons hold an infinitely expansive view of human potential, and view the purpose of existence as encompassing the attainment of a physical body, accumulation of knowledge, and the mastery of divine laws, all of which work together to allow human beings to transcend their fallen and carnal state and to attain a state of godhood.


Study Questions:
1.     What can be said about the relationship between education and existence?
2.     How is the physical body held in tension to the soul?
3.     Why is the story of the fall essential to Mormonism's understanding of human nature?

 

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