Mormon Enthusiasm for the Self-Made Man

Mormon Enthusiasm for the Self-Made Man December 31, 2012

I received a free review copy of The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life as part of the Patheos Book Club.

I’m glad to have read The God Who Weeps, since, even in the midst of all the Romney controversy, there’s been very little discussion of Mormon theology.  Reporters prefer to cover the Temple rituals because they’re secret, and therefore must be interesting.  The Book of Mormon musical prompted some error-checking, but not very many details about what would have been the correct lyrics to “I Believe.”  And most people don’t have access to Michael Haycock, who writes an interesting blog on Mormonism (the most recent post has graphs!) and popped by to answer questions about LDS priesthood a while ago.

Givens’ book does more to flesh out Mormon doctrine than anything else I’ve stumbled across, but I wish it spent more time on the how as well as the what of Mormon theology.  Some of the arguments remind me of my least favorite apologetic from C.S. Lewis — that the existence of a desire proves that something exists to satisfy that desire.

The authors make a similar pitch for the soul as eternal, with no beginning as well as no end.  They argue that all knowledge is memory, so we must have experience prior to our incarnation.  They answer Lewis’s question by supposing we have already experienced the thing we desire, prior to birth, and our yearning is the result of our memory of this sated desire.  This argument has come up elsewhere in philosophy and cognitive science.  It would have been nice to see some of the common objections raised and answered.  The God Who Weeps frequently cites literature and poetry, but could have stood to draw a little more on empirical studies.

Frequently, it feels like The God Who Weeps is making an aesthetic argument.  The Mormon God is presented as more compassionate, the Mormon salvation story as more optimistic than standard Christian dogma.  But what really drew my attention was the book’s focus on human agency.  In this story of the Fall, Adam and Eve are not transgressors but partners.  The authors frame Eve’s choice not as an act of disobedience but as a dilemma between competing goods.  (“Adam and Eve became more, not less, like God insofar as they came to see the same moral distinctions He did”).

But perhaps, in Mormon thinking, the act of disobedience was not such a wound in the word because the relationship between humans and God is a little more tenuous.  Part of the aesthetic pitch for a soul that precedes birth is as follows:

In our present, earthly form, we are clearly the product of forces outside our control… and yet, we know we are free.  How can this be, unless there is something at the heart of our identity that was not shaped by our environment, not inherited from our parents, and not even created by God?

…Our lives are more like a canvas on which we paint than a script we need to learn–though the illusion of the latter appeals to us by its lower risk.  It is easier to learn a part than to create a work of art.  The mystery is, how can I be free to shape my own desires, how can I be responsible to the inclination of my heart, for my tendency to love light or darkness, if God created my spirit out of nothing, calling me into existence by His sovereign power, only at the moment of my birth and conception.

The authors celebrate Adam and Eve gaining experiential knowledge of good and evil, because it lessened their dependence on God.  The authors seem to be looking toward a fraternal relationship between humans and God (their God chooses to act as a Father, but isn’t intended as Creator).  To me, this is a strange freedom to long for.  Constraints make identity.  I am born dependent, and the love I owe my parents shapes how I can grow.  That’s excellent!  Undirected and untrammelled growth is the philosophy of cancer.

I don’t want to be free of some constraints (like conscience) any more than I would resent my hearing because it is passive.  I don’t choose to hear, I receive impressions of the world around me constantly and without conscious choice.   Choosing to learn a script is a meaningful and excellent choice.  I’d rather be good than unique (not that it’s necessarily a dichotomy, or that I’m that adept at either).

Later in the book, it’s not clear to me that the Givens have succeeded in enriching human dignity by expanding human independence.  As part of their argument for the uncreated soul, the authors come off as nearly as gnostic as I am on a bad day:

If an origin among the stars is difficult to believe, an existence thought to commence with our mortal birth has its own absurdities to contend with.  Many beginnings may be inauspicious, but they should at least bear the seeds of future glories… But what are we to say about human beings?  That a paltry creature, an anonymous urchin, may grow into a Shakespeare, a Newton, a Mother Teresa is miracle enough.  Shall we also claim the destiny of an eternal being for a babe that springs into existence by mere happenstance?

There is an almost intolerable lack of sober reflection, foresight, and design behind most human conception.  Life begins by chance,by accident, by violence, or by carelessness.  The young, the frivolous, the unworthy, and the thoughtless can engender a child.  And yet the product engendered is one we recognize as something majestic, touched with dignity, and endowed with immortality.

Perhaps the dignity of a child is perplexing because sex is not an act of creation in this view.  The immortal soul is just slipping into a meatsuit, ready to take on its own independent pursuits.  Reading through the whole book, it does seem like the authors think that these uncreated souls, in or out of human flesh, have some sort of telos.  What I can’t figure out is where that obligation/binding comes from.

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • I have not read the book yet, though I got it for my family for Christmas. I will have to remedy that!

    I think you’re ignoring some fundamental bits of Mormon thinking on God, though; I’m not sure if they are in the book. First is the idea that the divine and the human are not ontologically so different; humans and God are of the same “species,” if you will, and the distinct aspect of this species is precisely that they have agency. This thought that humans and God are similar in origin and essence could, in an Aristotlean fashion, provide a telos for the human soul: to become like God. In that quest, God must direct us, but we must exercise our proto-divine agency to become like Him.

    • Fred E

      The key from my perspective is to follow the words of the Savior as he spoke through ancient prophets and apostles as well as those of our modern day. If we accept his word and believe in Him and Keep His commandments enduring to the end, then through the grace of our Savior we maybe become His sons and daughters. There is a major difference between man in his mortal state and God in His exalted golrified state. We mortals could not endure his glory in our physical bodies of flesh, bone, and spirit. Lets limit our conversation to the bible for in this sacred book we are informed In Philippians among other scriptures that when He returns to earth if we endure to the end in doing His works then our Coversation will be in heaven: from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. This of course is speaking of His glorious return to earth to complete his atonement by lifting His people out of this wicked world. And it is He; Who shall change our vile body, that it maybe fashioned like unto His glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto Himself. This is found in chapter 3 verses 20 & 21 of Philippians. Based on my studies this is just one verse among about 27 that support the principle or doctrine if you will, we also know that when Adam and Eve partook of the forbiden fruit the Lord God spoke to another saying; Behold the Man (male & female) has become as one of us, to know good and evil. Genesis 3:22. There references support that doctrine that we are as one of them (the Lord God) 1 Cor. 15:15-52; 1 John; Col. 3:4 Job 14:14 and to many others to mention.Whe must choose to become like God that is the basis of our agency to choose between Him and Satan or in other words to choose good or evil. All things good come from God where as Satan is the Father of evil. We choose the glory that is available to us which is likened unto the Sun, moon or stars for one star differers from another star in glory. To be honest I believe it is far less complicated that many attempt to make it.

  • Ted Seeber

    Just because you didn’t mean to pray a prayer, doesn’t equate to not praying the prayer. Even a rape is a prayer for children. Which is why I never can seem to bring myself to understand an exception in abortion law for rape. Abortion in the case of rape seems to signal to the rapist that rape is somehow ok, that we can reverse the effects of rape through medical means.

    • ACN

      “Even a rape is a prayer for children”

      What a horrific, disgusting thing to say.

      • R.C.

        And initially puzzling. At first I thought he was saying that, for children, committing a rape is a way to pray.

        Yes, the Asperger’s is pretty strongly on display in this case. Ted, this is yet another one of those invisible landmines in human conversation you’ll have to note as one of the rules.

        • R.C. wrote:
          >Yes, the Asperger’s is pretty strongly on display in this case.

          You’re being unfair to people who really do have Asperger’s. Try reading something written from an informed and sympathetic perspective on the subject, such as Simon Baron-Cohen’s Mindblindness.

          Ted is not simply clueless; he uses Asperger’s as an excuse.

          Dave Miller in Sacramento

        • jenesaispas

          Glad someone said that.

    • Even with your ideas about rape, the emotional effects of rape cannot be reversed through medical means.

      • Timbot2000

        Please remember that Ted, by his own admission, has been diagnosed with full-on Asperger’s syndrome. So he really has trouble connecting ideas and events with emotional associations. He lives in a world of pure abstraction. So he does not mean to hurt people or propose horrific things, its just that emotionally and affectively, he’s flying blind.
        Indeed, we could start a whole new blog called “S**t Ted Seeber Says” from the stuff he’s commented over the years on many blogs.

  • Loud

    So wait, first thet are moving toward a more on-level frendship with god by claiming he didnt have the power to create us, that we are eternal like him. Then the they say that a part (i know they offered more, but thats not what im talking about right now) of their reasoning for this is that God would never let idiots like us have a hand in the creation of life….. Are they trying to elevate the human race or tear it down?
    As for knowlage being a memory, who created the world around us? God did. If we lived eternally, and only just now entered into the world made by God, how could we be remembering any of it? It would only be possible if, in seeing and learning about the world God madeworld, we are remembering the touch of the hand

    • You’re taking Leah’s description and perceptions (both incomplete) of LDS theology for LDS theology.

      First, “a part … of their reasoning for this is that God would never let idiots like us have a hand in the creation of life.” I have no idea where you’re getting this. If you’re talking about sex, then Mormonism is all for that (within the bounds of marriage, of course). In fact, families are so essential that they are preserved into the next life!

      And I can’t make heads or tails of your second paragraph. Mormons believe that we lived with and learned from God for untold eons before we came to Earth; we actually observed (and maybe participated) in its creation.

  • Loud

    Of God, who made us. Otherwise, hes new, the world is new, and nothing could be remembered. Everything is forgien, even God.

  • “Undirected and untrammelled growth is the philosophy of cancer.” And the Replicators!

    I tend to think of undirected and untrammelled growth in this way, too, but that’s because I’m imagining growth as expansion and, because of the law of conservation of mass, consumption. But what if instead we understood growth as maturation? Is it possible to mature without direction? If we have a particular telos wired into us, then perhaps no matter the constraints, we would mature into what we should mature into. I don’t buy any of what I just speculated, though, but not for the same reasons that Mormon theologians (as you describe) could not: if we mature into our telos because of an inborn trait to do so, the agency that defines human life is lost. (I suppose one could suggest that we have the ability to choose not to mature, but I think that overestimates the amount of agency we have in this world of dependencies.)

    The major problem I have with all of the Mormon theology described here is (as anyone who knows me would predict) along a different line: I just don’t think we have the kind of agency described here. I think the degree of freedom we feel is illusory. That’s not to say that we have no agency, just that it is minimal, and that any theology must acknowledge the extraordinary dependency we–and our actions–have on a largely contingent world.

    • Actually, you nailed it on the head: Mormon theology does say that we can choose not to “mature” or progress; in fact, the point of the world is to learn that it is only through God that we can mature at all, and to align ourselves with God’s will in order to do so.

      And you’ve identified a problem that I find in a lot of Mormon theologies: overestimation of human agency. However, I do not believe that this is inherent in Mormon theology itself, but is rather an outgrowth of Mormonism’s marination in American enlightenment thought, which in many cases preaches exactly that. In fact, I believe that a proper understanding of Mormon theology would assert that what is important is not “untrammeled” freedom to do whatever, but moral freedom to turn to God or turn away from Him, something that is only loosely connected with our actual actions.

      • Thanks for your reply. (Is there a way of writing that that doesn’t sound passive-aggressive? I mean no passive aggression.) There seems to be a trend (of which I am part) to feel that the mainstream of whatever religion or denomination of which you are a part has held too tightly on to Enlightenment ideas of free will/agency. How much of your stream of Mormonism (here defined as espousing an anthropology in which both the actual amount of freedom and the ideal amount of freedom are limited) do you encounter in Mormonism broadly? What would you consider prevalent? Apologies in advance if I’m putting you on the spot or am too nosy.

        • Expansive notions of free will and agency as being central to the gospel are still mainstream in Mormonism, though less so than one or two decades ago.

        • JohnH

          There are strands of Mormonism, such as the feminists and this weird rejection of moral agency being the greatest gift of God and the very definition of our existence, that I have never seen mentioned or even alluded to except on the internet.

          • I contest not the value of moral agency, but what I see as its faulty equation with freedom of choice of action. I would also contest the claim that moral agency is *given* and not merely *ensured* by God; many Mormon thinkers past and present have said that agency IS intelligence, and lack of agency means non-existence.

            For an example of what I’m talking about, I’ll bring in Terryl Givens again:

          • JohnH

            ” I would also contest the claim that moral agency is *given*”
            Interesting as the linked pdf contains the scripture reference I was ready to pull out from Moses 7:32: “and in the garden of Eden gave I unto man his agency;”

            “agency IS intelligence, and lack of agency means non-existence.”
            An odd way to interpret D&C 93:30, “All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence.”, especially in light of 93:31. Does a rock have moral agency? What of when an intelligence changes its sphere of existence? What of when moral agency is at an end for those in Outer Darkness? They still exists and reign eternally in the sphere in which they are placed.

            In regards to Terryl Givens; He attempts to say that Satan’s plan does not involve coercion while at the same time says that it does, and in doing so calls at least four of our prophets simplistic. That is, if one does not choose to go to heaven but still ends up in heaven then some sort of coercive power was used, regardless of physical force or not. He gets to the same point while thinking he has gotten somewhere else.

          • Notice that scripture is speaking of the Garden; an easy response would be that humans as spirits had agency, and in the Garden it was ensured through God’s actions regarding the Fall.

            I don’t know how you’re exactly linking D&C 93:30 to agency, but it’s one of the scriptures the people I’m referring to (like BH Roberts) would quite often quote to put forward their ideas.

            And you’re failing to distinguish between different forms of coercion. The standard Mormon interpretation of agency has “coercion” meaning “removal of freedom of action,” whereas Givens has “coercion” meaning “removal of consequence.” In the former case, “agency” is merely “the ability to do what I will”; in the latter, it’s “the ability to select my eternal master, whether or not I can put into effect the actions this choice would entail.”

          • JohnH

            “standard Mormon interpretation”
            I get the feeling that you dislike what David O McKay, Spencer W. Kimball, Ezra Taft Benson, Heber J. Grant, and probably others have said in relation to classical liberalism, politics, and economics and so have made a caricature of the “standard Mormon interpretation” in order to claim that they were wrong and follow your own beliefs.

          • I present no caricatures here.

            Nor do I claim that they “really believed” what I’m saying.

            But you can’t write off decades of Mormon thought that directly contradicted those people so easily.

          • JohnH

            “decades of Mormon thought that directly contradicted those people”
            I am not following; could you point to a reference that I can read by an apostle or preferably a prophet?

          • Unfortunately, Mormon theology only sometimes begins and rarely ends with apostles and prophets. Often, the origins of ideas are very obscure. BH Roberts, for example, was a Seventy, but literally wrote the Church’s study manuals for a time and was hence extremely significant. You can find some of his thought on agency in this work ( ). The article “On Agency” by D. Morgan Davis cites some apostles and prophets that preached what I’m saying here ( ). The only known commentary by Joseph Smith on the matter has him speaking about Satan saving all men despite their sins as well.

          • JohnH

            B.H. Roberts writing Church sanctioned material is fine, it being under the direction of the Apostles. Otherwise, Mormon doctrine begins and ends with the Apostles and Prophets and I have no interest in whatever intellectuals have to say about the subject.

          • Uh, nice bit of an anti-intellectualist streak you’ve got. You do realize that prophets and apostles contradict each other and that they’ve typically not been the best at analyzing scripture and doctrine with rigor, I hope. Especially before the creation of Correlation in the 1950s. (You do realize, too, that there are official church materials even today that don’t get the apostles’ stamp of approval, let alone in the early 1900s. I doubt there was too much oversight of manual-writing back then.) “Intellectuals” aren’t trying to replace divine authority; they’re trying to make sense of it in a unique way. BH Roberts was both an authority and an intellectual, for instance. Just because something’s thought through a different lens than “pure” revelation doesn’t mean it’s instantly untrustworthy or irrelevant. Indeed, many things that people take as doctrine have their roots outside prophetic channels or otherwise have very indistinct and peculiar prophetic genealogies. Not to mention the many things prophets and apostles have taught as doctrine (like Adam-God, by Brigham Young, or young-earth creationism, put forward in proclamations but since made an issue on which the Church is neutral) that have since been repudiated or ignored…

          • JohnH

            The Church is guided by prophecy and revelation otherwise it has perished. The Prophets and Apostles are the ones that receive the prophecy and revelation and they are not required to present all revelation received as scripture. Everything that is not from revelation is the wisdom and philosophy of men mixed with scripture, which is precisely that which led the early church astray; they weren’t trying to replace divine authority, just make sense of it in a unique way.

            As the scriptures say, revelation is open to everyone, everyone is to know the Lord of themselves, and man can not know the Lord through the wisdom of the world. I doubt that the reason that you are LDS has anything to do with intellectual arguments but most likely a testimony given of the spirit. It is far better to read the scriptures and the words of the living prophets and apostles and seek God for understanding then it is to read the words of commentary on the scripture and the wisdom of intellectuals.

            I am not sure that the common understanding of what Brigham Young was saying in regards to Adam-God is anything close to what he actually was trying to say. However, since he isn’t alive to ask then I have no way of knowing if my idea of what he might have actually been trying to say is correct, at least not that I could prove. Regardless it is relatively unimportant in terms of living the gospel or in understanding the deepest of doctrines, which also happen to be the simplest parts of the gospel.

          • Sorry, any discussion of scripture beyond the text is commentary and interpretation. We can’t escape mixing philosophies of men with scripture. We have to realize that no matter what, we will be wrong about something; we’re all striving for truth. Some of us strive differently, and striving differently isn’t apostasy, so long as one can qualify in sincerity to enter the temple.

            Also, what I know about BY and Adam-God isn’t from “common understanding,” but from a highly acclaimed, thoroughly researched new biography. It’s pretty clear that he taught some things that many other GAs didn’t like and hence put by the wayside after his death, and later explicitly disavowed. A similar example is the law of adoption; before 1894, people were forbidden from getting sealed to non-Mormon ancestors; instead, people woul get sealed as children to high church leader. Wilford Woodruff in that year explained that previous doctrines had been preached in limited knowledge – even Joseph Smith. There are lots of “prophetic” teachings that likewise have been put aside, though in their day they were regarded as irrefutable.

            Furthermore, it’s not so simple to delineate what’s “prophetic” or “apostolic.” The Family Proclamation is venerated today, but no one knows about the 1875 proclamation by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve that denounced income inequality.

    • I actually just wrote a final paper to describe how a misinterpreted contrast in LDS scripture between Jesus and Satan as they were in the premortal existence leads Mormons to mistakenly value untrammeled freedom of choice and, consequently, libertarian or libertarian-minded conservative politics and rhetoric. I doubt that the Givenses are doing what you and Leah think they’re doing, but even if they are, in should be realized that they are expressing certain potentialities of Mormon theology, wherein there is little that is definitive.

      • JohnH

        ” mistakenly value untrammeled freedom of choice”
        Please be clear that it is a mistake in your view and not necessarily actually a mistake; Just because you don’t agree with Benson or Kimbell doesn’t mean that they were necessarily wrong.

  • deiseach

    “Shall we also claim the destiny of an eternal being for a babe that springs into existence by mere happenstance?”

    Yes. “The Divine Comedy”, ‘Purgatorio’, Canto XVI:

    85 From the hand of Him who looks on it with love
    86 before it lives, comes forth, like a little girl
    87 who weeps one moment and as quickly laughs,
    88 the simple infant soul that has no knowledge
    89 but, moved by a joyous maker,
    90 gladly turns to what delights it.

    Adam and Eve as partners not transgressors is taking the idea of the felix culpa and running off with it in all directions. To say that it was a dilemma of competing goods is no more than to say that nobody (or hardly anybody) deliberately chooses evil as evil; they see it as some form of good or benefit or gain. The choice for our First Parents is presented as between obedience and knowledge. Knowledge is good in itself, but gaining it by disobedience (which is a lack of good in method) tainted it. And that disobedience involved a lack of trust, a breaking of love and a rejection – Eve and Adam chose to turn away from God and towards something they did not understand. The lure was “Ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil”, but they already knew good; their knowledge of evil was hard-bought, and were they really divinized by it, or rather, did they not lose what they already had?

    • Except Mormons wouldn’t say that the question was one of mere knowledge versus obedience; in fact, since God had commanded contradictory things – that is, Adam and Eve could not both multiply and replenish the Earth AND not eat of the fruit – it was a decision between obediences. Adam and Eve chose to be the parents of the whole human race and chose to activate their moral agency, the faculty of humanity that makes morality and soteriology meaningful, and in so doing became more like God, the Divine Parent (who in Mormon theology is not alone, but has a Wife) who has His own moral agency. Without the Fall and knowledge of Evil, they could not have known Good or been Good in any way.

      • Iota


        I’ve read some about Mormon theology (I tend to do a lot of weird reading in my spare time). But I’m not struck by one thing, in consequence of this exchange:

        If you believe there were two contradictory commands then, it would seem, the Fall was not – in any sense – just. It is strikingly unfair to make demands of people they cannot meet. And If what Adam and Eve did was good, then there *should* be no Fall, and no Atonement. Because, logically, one can be only punished for a transgression one could have avoided.

        I can even wrap my head around people saying that kind of thing. But if the Fall was good (and the commands contradictory) and in some sense necessary for the maturing of humans (as all this seems to imply) then, what exactly did Jesus Christ atone for and why was His atonement necessary? [a link to do some reading will be enough]. And – given that I have read as much in an official Mormon source – why could only Christ atone?

        • Iota,
          many Mormon sources don’t emphasize this, buts its obvious from scripture and (I would argue) inherent in what Mormon sources do say, though unexplored and perhaps even unrecognized, that the contradiction in commands is a contradiction inherent in the nature of reality itself. Moral growth and moral action are only possible to the fullest extent in an arena where there is knowledge of good and evil, suffering, sin. But putting yourself in a situation where you are going to learn through flirting with wickedness is itself evil. The end does not justify the means. And even if they did, you would still have the fact that (and this part is mainstream LDS belief) none of us has what it takes to successfully engage with sin in an arena of real moral choice and come out unchained to the devil. The only way of squaring this circle is the atonement.

        • Derrida would suggest that part of the essence of religion is precisely making this unjustifiable choice between morally equivalent alternatives. Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac, for example, is not exceptional in but paradigmatic of human experience, in that we always make choices with dramatic consequences – it’s just that we don’t think about the alternatives a lot of the time. Why do I feed one cat instead of another, or speak English instead of Cherokee? Are these choices morally justifiable at all? Is the choice in the Garden being, in the end, between two Goods so hideously problematic?

          I think that here we can have recourse to a particularly Mormon conception of good and evil: good is that which allows us to unceasingly progress onward and upward, while evil is that orientation that, when chosen, stagnates our souls in their relationship to God. This idea allows us, in a way, to dispense of questions of Evil as something that requires punishment. Only if you view stagnation as something negative (which, in turn, means you are oriented toward God in a Good fashion) does that become punishment, but it’s not so much imposed by God as inherent in the mentality of the person. If someone chooses Evil in this sense, they will not accept God’s grace and God cannot override their agency.

          In this view, Christ’s Atonement allows us to orient ourselves toward God by eliding the Evils we inevitably choose because of our finite natures. The Fall put in place Adam and Eve’s ability to progress through a knowledge of the paradoxicality of life, the impossibility of doing what is Wholly Good, and the necessity of God’s grace in every moment and every decision of our lives.

          • Where does Derrida write this? I want to look it up as it sounds interesting.

          • Iota

            Derrida would suggest

            Derrida would suggest all kinds of things. Can we keep him out of this, possibly? 🙂 I would only talk about him if he were your authority, which I assume he isn’t.

            Is the choice in the Garden being, in the end, between two Goods so hideously problematic?

            For me, rather horribly. When you choose between two goods the worst thing that should happen to you is that you will arrive at perfection a bit later. If anything needs fixing or healing (atonement) something bad had to happen. Something had to break. Even if you conceive of evil not as punishable but as a kind of illness, that still is a bad result. But choosing between two goods (even unequal) should never result in anything that requires setting you back on course.

            And it does get a little weird when I think that this non-punishable-bad thing supposedly resulted in the Passion of Christ… Unless the Passion of Christ is not a singular event in Mormon theology and stuff like this happens more often (I doubt, but I’m no expert so I had to ask)?

            I also find the idea that you have to progress through evil to good VERY awkward if insist that Christ atoned for humankind. Because it would seem that (one of three):
            a) Christ had to sin
            b) Christ did not sin, but that makes Him morally undeveloped
            c) Christ did not sin but because He is of a different nature than humans, He didn’t have to sin to become moral.

            Bearing in mind that the LDS website claims that “The Savior was able to receive this power and carry out the Atonement because He kept Himself free from sin” (a) cannot be true, unless they are simplifying a lot. But if (b) is true then you would end up with an exceptionally weird result whereby a morally underdeveloped being that saves morally more developed beings . If that were true then I can see no benefit in sinning to become more “mature” , unless you value abstract knowledge higher than goodness (but in that case why would you attempt to emulate Christ?). (C) can only be true if there is a radical difference in nature between Christ and humans which could not be remedied by God the Father…

            In short – if sin is a *necessary* consequence of the human condition (or at least its fully developed form), then the Atonement of Christ makes no sense either because it is not necessary or because it should not be possible, unless Christ differs radically from all humans, because He alone could be entirely moral without sinning (but then, why? Especially why if you believe, as I take it Mormons do, that humans can become gods and, therefore, gods were once human?).

            I have read the links provided by Adam, but that doesn’t help much since in the second one it is simply stated: “But, for all of us but Christ, choosing to progress (to make new covenants…” and the obvious question is: why is Christ exempt?

            What am I missing?
            Does this even figure as a problem among Mormons?

            (the Catholic answer is, to the best of my feeble understanding, that all humans could have potentially not sinned, in which case the whole history of the world would be different. Christ is different in that He, being Son of God, Word incarnated, man and God united, is the only who can avoid sin after the Fall while alive on Earth, by His own power. But potentially, in some alternative universe where the Fall did not happen, we could all not need atonement, because our human nature would not have been tainted).

          • There’s not a standard Mormon answer to the question you’re asking.

            Two different kinds of answers that I think most Mormons would think worth entertaining are (1) actually doing evil isn’t necessary to moral progress, but being exposed to it, resisting it, and having the choice and temptation is, and Christ is the only being who could be in that situation and not succumb at least a little or (2) that to the extent that fully knowing evil is necessary for progress, because you can’t know the good unless you its absence, that Christ in the atonement fully took on the entire experience of humankind, good and bad.

          • Iota


            That still ends up just saying that Christ is special in some way without explaining why.

            Being Catholic I have no problem with the idea that Christ is special, but I don’t believe I can ever be exactly like Christ (because I am only human, while He is both human and God). If I understand Michael’s statement about species (and what little I know of Mormon theology) you would claim that you CAN become like Christ, literally, become gods.

            Which leads to the following:
            Either the fact that Christ did not sin is quite important, but then it begs the question of how come He is different than you and yet you can become like Him? And also how come was it necessary that He not sin, in order that you may progress – because I take it the Atonement is kind of a big deal? – but it is at the same time necessary that you sin to progress?

            Or you think that Christ never having sinned is NOT important, because in the end you will be basically eqyuals but then his special Atonement (which is possible, explicitly, because he has not sinned) makes no sense. If sin does not matter all that much, it should not require a special Atonement.

            (If what you wrote before is all there is to it in Mormon theology, please confirm and I’ll just drop the topic – I don’t want to flog a dead horse. I just want to find out if there’s anything left to find out here, because this juxtaposition of concepts is kind of shocking to me, frankly. Much more than anything else I’ve read about Mormonism).

          • Iota

            Also: if I’m making a wrong turn somewhere and there is a different conclusion that Mormonism reaches but, feel free to just say so.
            I will take your word for it – no explanations necessary (if – for example – some crucial idea is not to be talked about with non-Mormons or some such).

          • JohnH

            We can become joint-heirs with Christ and one with Christ and God as they are one but this only through the atonement of Christ. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and thus all are barred from becoming like God except through the grace of Christ. Explaining the nature of being gods and our equality or lack thereof with God the Father and Christ further would be getting into a subject that is generally not talked about, for which explicit revelations haven’t been given, and for which there may be a variety of opinions within Mormonism. I think the answer is perfectly clear in scripture but others may disagree with me.

            It is not necessary that we sin in order to progress as children that die before they reach the age of accountability are heirs of exhalation, thus have eternal progression, but have never sinned. All that have reached the age of accountability will sin because we are not perfect. All that have passed through mortality have had the experience of being separated from God and have thus had an experience with the bitter so that they can choose the sweet.

            Christ was unique in that He not only was sinless past the age of accountability but that He choose to take upon Himself the the wounds of our transgressions so that we might become perfect and one with Him. Jesus Christ also overcame physical death which he was able to do due to being sinless and the creator; the wages of sin is death so death could have no hold on Him.

          • Derrida speaks of this in “The Gift of Death,” and while he is not a theological authority, I think his perspective on morality is very useful and quite descriptive of human life.

            To address Iota’s comments:

            Yes, we do believe we can become like Christ. However, there are some significant differences between Mormon and typical Christian theologies here. Christ, in LDS theology, has the same filial relationship to God as humans do: we are all children in spirit, uncreated in essence but taught and parented by our Heavenly Father in spirit form before coming to Earth.

            It is this aspect that might better explain what makes Christ different. Honestly, I myself am unsatisfied with many Mormon theologies of Christ’s uniqueness. (Perhaps the one that most annoys me is the thought that Christ had a half-divine, half-mortal physical body that could not be killed save He will it – having genetically inherited his divine physical attributes from God. Eek!)

            In response, I’ve tried to come up with my own, and perhaps the most satisfactory interrogates the concepts of Him being First and Only Begotten. Some Mormons attach this to spiritual birth order, that he was literally born with His spiritual body before all the others of God’s children. However, I think that this applies to begottenness in the moral sense: Jesus was the first, and only, spirit child to submit himself wholly to the will of the Father.

            One very interesting bit of Mormon theology is the so-named “Council in Heaven,” in which God proposed to His children that they come to an earth to gain moral experience and demonstrate that they would choose to live forever with their Father after their sojourn in mortality. Knowing, however, that humans would err, God said a Savior would be needed, and two volunteered: one said that he would save all humankind, and the other said God’s will would be done – that some would not be saved. The former, Lucifer, grew angry when his proposal was rejected in favor of the latter’s – Jesus’s. If Lucifer was at all a viable Savior candidate (and this is really going out on a limb; thoughts I’ve been puzzling through today), then perhaps it was Jesus’s volunteering to be the Savior, to take on the sins of the world, to totally obey the Father’s will, that made Him the Only and First Begotten (he was the first, and another Savior would not be necessary).

            Also, no one said that we needed to sin to progress, only that we needed an understanding of sin to progress. THAT can be obtained without sinning, per se; it’s just that Jesus avoided all sin.

          • Iota

            Also, no one said that we needed to sin to progress, only that we needed an understanding of sin to progress.

            Clarification: “you” meant primarily Fall of the whole of the human race (maybe I should have used “we” but I obviously don’t identify with Mormonism). So the idea that the first parents had to sin (transgress, if you will), having been given two supposedly contradictory commands.

            Although I admit I was also worried there was some whiff of a suggestion that therefore, sin is somehow desirable as part of moral development. No offence meant to your moral character, by the way – I hope you didn’t take any.

            Thanks for taking the time and attention to write all this.

          • A little side-thought that just occurred to me (but may well be old news to people who deal in that kind question):
            Basically this means Mormon!Jesus is fully human and not (yet) divine, but different from other humans by (a) never having sinned, (b) being especially obedient to God, and (c) somehow playing a special role in our salvation by virtue of a+b. So the insight is that the closest Catholic equivalent to Mormon!Jesus is not Catholic!Jesus but Catholic!Mary, who also has those characteristics.

        • It may help illuminate the Mormon view if I say that the most important things in life are demands placed on us that we cannot meet. I’m thinking principally here of friendship, marriage, and children.

      • deiseach

        Well, this is the whole hinge of the Fall. Whether we take the eating of the fruit as literal or as a symbolic representation of some deed, act or decision, the choice was between obedience and disobedience. Who would Eve and Adam trust – God, or the serpent?

        Also, there is nothing to say that the prohibition was absolute for always – one strain of thought has it that in time, when Adam and Eve were ready (say, if they had resisted the temptation to eat when the serpent tempted them), then they would have been given to eat of the Tree of Knowledge (and, as someone pointed out, they were already permitted to eat of the Tree of Life). This is the whole plot, after all, behind C.S. Lewis’ second volume of the Space Trilogy, “Perelandra”.

        I don’t know enough of Mormon theology to start criticising it, which is why I am very hesitant to say much on this topic other than re-iterate Catholic teaching. But I see no reason why our First Parents could not have been obedient and have borne children, unless we’re all going to accept Philip Pullman’s notion that the eating of the fruit is a metaphor for puberty and sexual maturation and by ‘knowing’ what is meant is ‘sexual intercourse’.

        • I have a HUGE problem with the conflation of sex and knowledge of good and evil. I think it sexualizes morality in a very problematic fashion, so you’re not alone there. However, you will find Mormons that make exactly that argument – that Adam and Eve’s “innocence” in the Garden foreclosed knowledge of sex.

          I don’t know if I have a satisfactory answer to what the essential connection between procreation and divine moral knowledge is, but it could be that parenting children and moral agency are both divine traits (according to Mormon thought, this latter assertion is most definitely true) that cannot exist without each other.

          • If you see knowledge of good and evil as tied up with entering an arena of moral choice where your actions have meaningful consequences, then the ability to create and raise new human life is pretty much the acme of meaningful moral choice with seriously meaningful consequences.

          • deiseach

            And what resulted from Adam and Eve taking on this new agency which enabled them to beget children? One son murders another out of jealousy. Any way you slice it, even if you reject the doctrine of Original Sin, their parents’ example of the way they exercised their choice influenced their children.

          • Mormon scripture would say the opposite: Adam and Eve were exceptionally righteous all their mortal lives, but nearly all their children (including a large number born before Cain and Abel) succumbed to Satanic temptations despite their instruction.

      • deiseach

        Okay, if we accept the account in Genesis (and I am basing my excerpts from Scripture on this site, just to be sure we’re all talking about the same thing), then there are two pieces of information Eve has:

        (1) Adam has been told by God “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”

        (2) When she recounts this to the serpent, it answers that “Ye shall not surely die:

        5 For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.”

        Now, Eve has a decision to make here: who is speaking truth? Who does she believe? Who or which of them has shown himself to be truthful before, or that what he says is so?

        Her decision seems to come about when she considers the benefits of eating: “6 And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.”

        But – unless there is information missing which we do not have in our versions of Genesis, which seems to be one Mormon interpretation, if I take things right? – Eve has not received any new information regarding the nature of the tree; presumably she could always see that it was fair, and good for food, and she already knew that it would give wisdom. The only new information she has is what the serpent tells her, which boils down to “God is lying. He’s scared you will become His equal.”

        I do not see anything here about “Eat and fulfil your destiny, eat and become parents of the race which will fill and subdue the earth”. Someone is not telling everything. The Mormon view seems to be that God isn’t, or at least not in the documents we have at present, which may omit, have lost, or never have had the full account. The traditional Christian view is that the serpent wasn’t telling the full truth. The choice, on the face of it, is not “Choose ignorance or choose destiny”. It is “Who do you believe?”

        • Well, the fact is that Mormons aren’t only operating from the Genesis account. This IS one area in which the Book of Mormon does significantly factor into Mormon theology: 2 Nephi 2; Mosiah 3; and Alma 12 and 40-42 all deal with the problem of the Garden. In addition, there are retellings of the Creation and Garden narrative in the Books of Moses and Abraham, as well as in the temple endowment ordinance (which does have further information, but won’t be dealt with directly in Mormon theologies because of restrictions of place, time, and manner in which that ordinance should be discussed). Revelations to Joseph Smith also factor into this.

          • deiseach

            And here is where I bow out of the discussion, because I do not accept the revelations claimed by Joseph Smith. Any further comment would just lead to unpleasant statements on my part.

          • Kind of hard to unaderstand and discuss Mormon theology if you ignore our scriptures 😉

  • Mormon here.

    Its pretty obvious to me that the Givens’ *are* making mainly aesthetic arguments. I have no problem with that. But then, Lewis’ argument from desire was the one that by far most persuaded me.

    However, speaking only for myself, the Givens’ version of Mormon theology is too clean, irenic, and even classically liberal by half. I don’t see that it corresponds very well to our actual human experience or to the basic truth of a faith that sees God’s torture and death as a fundamental requirement for anyone or anything to escape endless misery.

    • I yearn for when Mormons will be able to shed the burden of classical liberalism in our theologies!

  • Two more responses to Libresco’s post.

    First, on whether souls exist before conception or not. I have always understood that souls existing eternally meant that they existed in the same kind of state as God, outside time. Ergo, at any point at which there is time, that soul also exists. I don’t think thats what Mormons are talking about when they talk about the pre-mortal existence, they are talking about an existence *in time of some sort* before conception. But what do Catholics and mainstream Christians mean when they talk about the soul coming into being at conception but existing eternally? Do they mean that the soul continues to exist in an infinity of time after that point, or do they mean that the soul has its conception as its cause, its beginning from a causal standpoint, but that since the soul is eternal it existed *temporally* before its conception in a sense? Or is there some other option I’m not grokking?

    Second, though much of what Libresco says about the Givens is just, she is also assimilating their stuff to her own promethean moral temptation as she tends to do.

    • deiseach

      I direct you to the article on the soul in the 1913 “Catholic Encyclopedia” (needless to say, there have been refinements and developments since then, but this is the basic shape of the argument):

      “St. Thomas’s doctrine is briefly as follows:
      •the rational soul, which is one with the sensitive and vegetative principle, is the form of the body. This was defined as of faith by the Council of Vienne of 1311;
      •the soul is a substance, but an incomplete substance, i.e. it has a natural aptitude and exigency for existence in the body, in conjunction with which it makes up the substantial unity of human nature;
      •though connaturally related to the body, it is itself absolutely simple, i.e. of an unextended and spiritual nature. It is not wholly immersed in matter, its higher operations being intrinsically independent of the organism;
      •the rational soul is produced by special creation at the moment when the organism is sufficiently developed to receive it. In the first stage of embryonic development, the vital principle has merely vegetative powers; then a sensitive soul comes into being, educed from the evolving potencies of the organism — later yet, this is replaced by the perfect rational soul, which is essentially immaterial and so postulates a special creative act. Many modern theologians have abandoned this last point of St. Thomas’s teaching, and maintain that a fully rational soul is infused into the embryo at the first moment of its existence.”

      Only God is, properly, sempiternal; outside of time and space, with neither beginning nor end, existing perpetually and eternally in a ‘now’ throughout all of what is existent. Other things – creatures, entities, material objects – have been created and have a beginning. Some have a definite end; others, such as the soul (and glorified body, which will be restored at the General Resurrection) have a beginning in their creation by God and will then be taken up into eternity, time itself coming to an end. Angels also, though they are not human and do not have souls as such, are eternal but created. This is why Arianism is a heresy .

      Time will not continue in eternity as an endless succession (whether of years or whatever), it will itself come to an end. To say “What existed before creation?” or “Where was God before time began?” is as absurd as it is to ask in modern cosmology “What existed before the universe began in the Big Bang, if the universe arose out of a pre-existing state?”

      Souls are created directly by God and infused into the conceived embryo. The material form of the human life comes from the parents. This is also why evolution, as regards the arising and refinement of human life from pre-existing matter, is not controversial in so far as the denial of the soul is not involved so far as Catholicism is concerned (though there is more to it than just that, of course).

      • This is to repeat what I already knew (with much greater depth and detail, so thank you) but without answering the question.

  • Jeff Cunningham

    Leah, It seems you have read this book thinking it is the Givens’s attempt to explain Mormon philosophy when what they are really doing is working to explain what God has revealed to mankind through His prophets.
    There are major misunderstandings here about what God had told us. “Create” means to organize – not to make something out of nothing. When He told Abraham that “I am the Lord thy God, I am more intelligent than they all” He meant more intelligent than us, His children. These are both doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and are found in their standard works of scripture.
    If you truly believe in God as omniscient, all-powerful, etc… then you have no choice but to accept what happened in the Garden of Eden with Adam snd Eve as what He wanted to happen! Any other conclusion would mean God is not who and what He says He is. Either He is God or Satan pulled a “fast one” on Him. Not likely.

    • Subsistent

      For most monotheists, divine omniscience means that the Deity can know anything knowable, anything not intrinsically unknowable in itself. But a future act of free will really free from all necessity, is unknowable in itself, is unforeseeable even to an omniscient intelligence. For “Properly speaking, God does not FORE-see the things of time, He SEES them, and He sees in particular the free options and decisions of the created existent which, inasmuch as they are free, are unforeseeable in themselves.” (The quote is from the Catholic essayist Jacques Maritain’s book *God and the Permission of Evil*, pp. 78 & 79.)
      BTW, in discussions of God’s “permission of evil”, *permission* does not mean “endorsement” or “approval”; it just means “toleration”, “putting up with”.

  • Subsistent

    If “the [human] soul [is] eternal, with no beginning as well as no end”, it is nonetheless, in Mormon theology, material; indeed, is itself matter of a certain sort: it is a subset, if you will, of matter. Not that it’s not “spirit”, but that “all spirit is matter”.
    For # 131 of *Doctrine and Covenants*, titled “Instructions given by Joseph Smith, Ramus, Illinois, May 16 and 17, 1843″, states:
    “[131:7] There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes;”
    “[131:8] We cannot see it; but when our bodies are purified we shall see that it is all matter.”

  • Phillip

    I just finished reading C. S. Lewis’ book Perelandra and, having a Mormon background myself, I was struck by how the Devil’s argument to the ‘Eve’ on Venus basically parallels the LDS argument for why our Eve had to partake of the forbidden fruit to progress. Has anyone else read that book and noted the similarity? I have to admit that I now find trusting Mary a more compelling archetype than willful Eve. In my experience, Eve seems to receive more attention and accolades in LDS culture than Mary.

    • I think Eve receives more attention in LDS circles, perhaps, because there she is more theologically developed in LDS circles, involving matters of family, parenthood, agency, progression, transgression, and the like. Feminist Mormon theologies that emphasize female life cycles would probably give Mary more time of day, speaking of what it means to bear, nurse, and nurture the Son of God; however, since we live in a patriarchal, classically liberal America, Eve appeals more to our theological preferences.

      • I think she receives more attention because of the temple and because of the quite interesting exposition of doctrine that is placed in her mouth in the book of Moses.

        • Those were what I was considering when I commented on it 😉

    • deiseach

      How much of that is a faint, lingering trace of the Protestant culture of suspicion of Mariolatry? I have read posts from Evangelicals and non-denominationalists decrying how Mary gets a cursory mention on Christmas, but even on days like Mothering Sunday (or Mother’s Day) when the expectation is a church service and sermon devoted to mothers, other women of the Bible get praised but Mary is left out for precisely this reason – nobody wants to sound too ‘Catholic’ by talking about Mary as if she were more special than any other woman.

      I’ve also gotten into online fights with Calvinists about the ‘incubator’ view of Mary, i.e. God needed someone to bear His Son, but once the child was born – literally, in some views – that was it, and Mary’s role was over, and she had nothing to do with how He turned out and we have nothing to learn from her.

      • Unfortunately, Mormons have picked up a lot of habits from Protestants, especially when it comes to anti-Catholic arguments. I’m pretty sure this is an influence on amount of discussion of Mary in LDS circles.

  • Jeff Cunningham

    The words of Adam and Eve are recorded in Moses chapter 5 verses 10 & 11- a part of The Pearl of Great Price, one of the standard scriptures of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints:
    “And in that day Adam blessed God and was filled, and began to prophesy concerning all the families of the earth, saying:

  • Also, Leah, you should check out Adam Miller’s responses to the Givenses to get another Mormon take on these issues. His five posts can be found here:

    • (Actually, the author of these posts commented that he largely agreed with your objections. 😉 )

  • Jeff Cunningham

    Blessed be the name of God, for because of my transgression my eyes are opened, and in this life I shall have joy, and again in the flesh I shall see God.
    And Eve, his wife, heard all these things and was glad, saying: Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth to all the obedient.”
    God has a plan for us and nothing has been left to chance. After all, He is God and He still speaks to men as in Abraham’s and Moses’s day-why would He change?

  • Phillip

    It seems that Given’s main point is the we can relate better to the LDS God (and God can relate better to us) since we are essentially the same species, even before the Incarnation. Granted, that does make God more understandable by bringing him down to our level as being essentially human, or bringing us up to his level depending on your perspective I suppose. Coming to grips with God as the transcendent Other, decidedly not human in his essence, was one the hardest mental hurdles I had to overcome in becoming Catholic.

  • Subsistent

    FWIW: Though it’s not “dogma”, there is in Catholic tradition a respectable opinion holding that Adam and Eve repented their disobedience, and are now in God’s friendship.

    • deiseach

      Not just an opinion; Adam and Eve are amongst the redeemed. See the Orthodox icons of the Harrowing of Hell for the Saviour trampling down the gates of Hell and drawing forth our First Parents (amongst the other inhabitants of the Limbo of the Patriarchs) from their place of waiting. This is one of the areas where both lungs of the Church breathe in unison 🙂

      Christmas Eve is also the feastday of Ss. Adam and Eve – yes, really, look it up on a calendar! I have a religious-themed Catholic calendar myself which gives the feastdays of the year and it’s marked on it.

      Turning once again to my 14th century friend, the Italian poet:

      “The Divine Comedy”, ‘Paradiso’

      Canto XXVI, the Heaven of the Fixed Stars: Dante meets Adam

      80 And almost dazed with wonder I inquired
      81 about a fourth light shining there among us.
      82 My lady answered: ‘Within these rays
      83 the first soul ever made by the First Power
      84 looks with love upon his Maker.’
      85 As the tree that bends its highest branches
      86 in a gust of wind and then springs back,
      87 raised up by natural inclination,
      88 so was I overcome while she was speaking —
      89 awe-struck — and then restored to confidence
      90 by the words that burned in me to be expressed.
      91 I began: ‘O fruit who alone were brought forth ripe,
      92 O ancient father, of whom each bride
      93 is at once daughter and daughter-in-law,
      94 ‘as humbly as I am able, I make supplication
      95 for you to speak with me. You know what I long for.
      96 To have your answer sooner I leave that unsaid.’

      Canto XXXII, the Empyrean – the White Rose of the Blessed: Dante sees Eve

      Absorbed in his delight, that man of contemplation
      2 took upon himself the teacher’s role
      3 and spoke these holy words:
      4 ‘The wound that Mary closed up and anointed
      5 was opened and inflicted
      6 by the lovely woman now at Mary’s feet.
      7 ‘Below her, in the order
      8 formed by the third tier of the seats,
      9 as you can see, Rachel sits with Beatrice.
      10 ‘Sarah and Rebecca, Judith and she —
      11 great-grandmother of that singer who,
      12 grieving for his sin, cried: “Miserere mei” —
      13 ‘may be seen there, one beneath the other,
      14 in their ordered ranks, while I, pausing for each name,
      15 move petal by petal down through the rose.
      16 ‘And downward from the seventh tier, or up,
      17 parting all the petals of this flower,
      18 are the appointed seats of Hebrew women.
      19 ‘For, according to whether in their faith
      20 they looked forward to Christ or back,
      21 this is the wall that separates the sacred tiers.

  • Phillip


    Since we are discussing aesthetic based arguments, have you read David Hart’s The Beauty of the Infinite: the aesthetics of Christian truth? I am thinking about ordering the book and was wondering if you had an opinion on it.

    • leahlibresco

      I have not, so you’ll have to let me know if you order it!

  • Jake

    They argue that all knowledge is memory, so we must have experience prior to our incarnation. They answer Lewis’s question by supposing we have already experienced the thing we desire, prior to birth, and our yearning is the result of our memory of this sated desire.

    Where exactly do they think “memory” is being stored in our pre-birth non-corporeal form? If the claim is that “memory” is something other than a fact about our physical brains, then that seems like a testable prediction. We notice that:
    1. Damaging certain parts of the brain inhibits the ability to store short term memories
    2. Damaging certain parts of the brain inhibits the ability to store long term memories
    3. Damaging certain parts of the brain destroys some (or all) past memories
    4. More recent memories tend to be easier to recall, more vivid, and more accurate than older memories
    5. Memories are often poorly calibrated to reality
    6. Data is storable on purely physical medium other than the human brain
    7. Brain scans show that certain specific parts of the brain are activated during memory recall

    The memory-as-non-physical theory fails to make any of these predictions. At the very least, it seems like we can say two things:
    1. It is much more likely, based on the physical evidence, that memory is a physical phenomenon
    2. Whatever it is that it storing memories is optimized towards compression and approximation rather than accuracy (read: it’s really bad at getting every detail right, but really good at letting us quickly recognize a tiger that might try to eat us)

    Given that Mormonism was founded, and this theology presumably fleshed out, before we had a good understanding of the underlying mechanisms of memory, is this a doctrine that is up for debate within the church? Or is this claim unassailable by evidence?

    • Mormon theology has never been standardized to any degree of comprehensiveness.

      That said, Mormons believe that we had some sort of body before the ones we obtained as humans, so it’s totally possible that memory functioned similarly before this life.

      Further, theology of neurology is relatively unexplored, a fertile field for study. Many Mormons do hold ideas that your objections significantly problematize or contradict, but I don’t think that your objections are fatal to our religion. It’s just a matter of thinking through the questions in a new light.

  • There seems to be a lot of misunderstandings of Mormonism in the kinds of questions asked about The Garden and the Atonement. Having not read the book, but reviews of it, I would say that “Givens’ book does more to flesh out Mormon doctrine than anything else I’ve stumbled across” is a false reading. If anything, it apparently seeks to examine the aesthetic (as has been pointed out by other posters) possibilities of Mormon theology rather than explain any teachings. This more than anything I feel is the source of the problematic discourse here.

    To get an idea of what Mormons believe about the Fall and its relation to The Atonement, it must be understood that Mormonism is a revealed religion. This means that all the philosophical, ethical, and logical arguments and examinations are besides the point. You either believe what it’s scriptures and prophets teach or you don’t. Not to say it cannot be cross examined and questioned, but that such approaches are mere diversions.

    Having said that, there are some theological holes that must be filled in order to answer many of the questions posed. First and foremost is that for Mormons the Fall and the Atonement are inseparable. The Suffering and Atonement are not seen as “plan B” since Eve took of the apple, but both are part of the original plan. The Atonement happened because of the Fall and the Fall was necessary in order for the Atonement to be of any efficacy. The first parents had to be made mortal for the rest of us to be made immortal beyond the confines of the garden. Assuming that Adam and Eve could have had immortal children (and Mormon scripture teachings this couldn’t have happened), we would all be stuck in the same state forever. In other words, we would have been in the same condition we were in our pre-mortal spirit life only with physical bodies. With the Fall came death, but it also brought the ability to gain knowledge and therefore greater eternal glory. That is made possible by the Atonement that negates sin with repentance and death in the final judgement. We could have been eternal children, but God’s plan was for us to be eternal adults with all the potentials that can bring.

    Although Mormonism doesn’t see what Adam and Eve did as a “sin,” it is still a “transgression” meaning a breaking of a Law with consequences. When Satan said, “you shall not die, but become as Gods knowing good and evil,” he was telling half truths or a twisted version of the truth. On the other hand, when God said you can take of the tree of life or the tree of knowledge, but not both He was telling the truth even if our present texts don’t explain what exactly was meant. No matter if Eve realized she needed to take of the fruit in order to have better eternal opportunities, she with Adam would still be banished to the possibilities of personal failure and mortal pain. Adam and Eve broke a Law and were punished, but Christ suffered and died as only an eternal God could to satisfy the demands of the Law for a greater good.

    A little more speculation than above, but the argument of the “War in Heaven,” as Mormons call a great controversy in the pre-mortal existence of us all, was more than about free agency. That was an important point, but not the main one. The central question seemed to have been if we would remain in an innocent Garden state where all would be saved, or be given the opportunity to actually become like God. The risk with the latter was greater probability of personal failure and therefore knowledge of our damned conditions. Every mortal in Mormonism will still be saved, but not to the same degrees (hence the belief in three degrees of Glory) depending on our choices and willingness to repent of sins defined in Mormonism as willful disobedience to God’s commandments as far as each person understands them.

    I could go on and talk about pre-mortality, eternal nature of intelligences, spirits, physical vs. eternal bodies and etc. to flesh things out even more. This is already too long so I will stop here for now.

  • ji

    I’m a Latter-day Saint (a Mormon) and I’m always amazed at how we humans (including Mormons) are always trying to re-create God in our own images. I hope anyone reading the Givens’s book will read it as a gift from them — if there is anything in it that is helpful to a reader’s ponderings and contemplations, well, that’s good — if not, like a gift that really doesn’t fit one’s needs or circumstances at the time, it can be put in the closet, so to speak. But I hope no one will read the Givens’s book as the source for Mormon theology and dogma — it isn’t there. For me, I see things a little differently, so the Givens don’t speak for my Mormonism.

    For me, Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself to all nations and reminding us that God keeps his promises.

  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    The main theme of “The God Who Weeps” is that God has “body, parts and passions” and is emotionally involved with our lives and experiences. Mormons do not deny that God is omniscient, but propose that to have REAL knowledge about humankind requires the ability to experience what we experience, both in the physical world and in the world of our emotions. Alma Chapter 7 in the Book of Mormon is quite explicit about that, that Christ in the Atonement would experience not only our sins, but also all of our suffering, hunger, thirst, fatigue, and pain. For God to have infinite love for mankind and to have infinite knowledge of mankind means that God must also have an infinite and complete empathy with all of us, not in some cumulative whole but an infinite completeness that encompasses within it the fulness of each individual person’s life. God is not an impassive monarch, a philosopher king, but a Father and a Son, who know us inside out better than we know ourselves. In that unity of experience and felt knowledge is our at-one-ment with God. That is the measure of the love God has for us. When in Matthew 11 Christ calls us to take His yoke upon us, His burden is light because He is carrying the weight of it for both of us.

    Through his perfect empathy, Christ is able to relieve us of the burden of our sins, if we give our lives to Him. Those who refuse to submit to Christ, who want to be independent, are in full possession of their own burden of sin, and will receive a just punishment as they find they cannot escape a perfect knowledge of their own unworthiness to stand in God’s presence.

    The Givens’ book is an essay that explains why the Mormon understanding of the nature of God and of humankind is one that is attractive, why a person should WANT to believe in such a God and in such a human. It does not argue that you must accept these ideas as true, only that if you find them sweet and warm you should look further into the details of Mormon doctrine to determine whether there is truth in this picture.

  • Loud

    Kay, so please clear this up for me Micheal. Mormans belive that souls are uncreated and eternal, that they learned from God BEFORE they entered his world amd that is why they are remembering?
    That makes more sense than them remebring what they never expirenced and what was created by a god they never met, but why do you think they werent created? Genesis said that God breathed int adams nostril to bring him alive. He didnt do that with the other beings he created, obviously symbolic of the fact that both physical AND our unique siritual life come from him. And what about him saying that we He made us in His image? He wasnt refering to our form in Christ, who had not yet taken on humanity. (And am i also mistaken in beliving that mormons do not consider jesus to literally be god? If so thats another reason that explination goes out the window.) He was talking about HIM giving US something that no other animals had: a soul. A soul made by the Father, who was a pure soul.

    • Well, you butt up against some Mormon theology you don’t know. For one, we believe that we are created in the image of God… because God has a physical body that is like ours. Further, we’d just say that the souls God infused into humankind’s bodies were not created at that moment, but were preexisting.

      Also, we believe animals have souls of a sort. Though the theology of animals goes no farther than that, really.

  • Loud

    Micheal, the first sin was eating from the tree of knowlage of good and evil, but it seems to me that you are saying that this was nessesary. If God told us that we didnt need it, and we took it, we sinned. And if you are arguing that it wasnt a sin on the grounds that it made us progress, made us more like god, then you need a new argument: that ones as old as the devil. No, literally. Tethin gis, it is far more important that we submit to gods will than that we have knowlage, knowlage is merely a tool to serve us as we submit to his will, like a monkey wrench, or a hammer, or feet. We dont need feet to follow god…. dang thankful to have them though! Yes, haveing feet makes me more whole, an dhaving knowlage makes my mind more whole: but never let it be said that the infants, the autistic, or the ignorant people wjo through mere misfortun edo not have the opertunity to learn will not be protecte and accepted by him. I think being tol d”no” by god qualifies as not having the opertunity. Or perhaps he planned on givin gthem legitamate opertunities once they showed trust and love. Buteither way, i would have gladly have tsken the garden an dignorence, or even the darkest pit in the world, than to have wllfulky disobeyed

  • Loud

    ***garden and ignorence, or even the darkesst pit in the world than know all and have disobeyed once. Which makes even my smallest of sins hurt hard, as Im sure they are meant to. Did you ever hear:
    the men of the east sign the stars and times and triumps mark, but men signed of the cross of christ go gaily in the dark.
    its not about being igmorant, its about being brave without needing iliciet knowlage. How many times did god get angry because an iseralite leaderasked help from a pagan seer….? At least once.

    • I never said knowledge saves. I said knowledge of godliness (divine morality, grace, charity) that allows us to follow God opens the door to salvation through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. I think that in the Bible someone said that to know God and Christ is eternal life, no? 😉

      I tend to see the Garden story on one level as a parable about our spirits coming to Earth. When we decided to come here (Lucifer and his followers declined), we knew that outside of the presence of God we would err and turn from Him. However, entering into this realm of possibility and potential was necessary in our progression to learn what God was like through total dependence on the merits of Christ to save us. Thus, I don’t really see the partaking of a fruit as a “sin,” something worthy of punishment. I see it as humankind’s choice to leave the presence of God in order to return to Him later in such a way that he could share with us even more of His glory. If you see my comments above, in Mormon theology, “sin” and “evil” are merely moral stagnation. Spiritual progression comes through raising the moral stakes of our actions and thus forcing us to be morally dynamic – the result of the partaking of the fruit.

      Further, ignorance in this life is no hurdle in Mormon theology: everyone will get the chance to accept or deny Christ, whether in this life or between death and the Judgment.

  • ” Genesis said that God breathed into adams nostril to bring him alive. He didnt do that with the other beings he created, obviously symbolic of the fact that both physical AND our unique siritual life come from him”
    Although many traditional Mormons believe in the “Creationist” theology, Mormonism doesn’t stick with the same assumptions. I would say Mormonism emphasizes “symbolic” over “literal” in the breath of life and formation of Adam and Eve. If it must be considered even semi-literal, Mormonism believes God does this every day with every living thing since we each are creations of Him just as Adam and Eve were. Life is the breathing of spirit into body to make souls.
    You are also mistaken in a lot of things about Mormonism. First off, Mormonism believes that we were made after the image of God in both physical and spiritual sense. We look like Him just as Jesus (who is and was a Divinity, a God if you will) looked like us and therefore the Father. We are all of the same species as God, while other life forms are not. Yes, even animals have spirits and souls. To get technical for Mormonism, every physical particle has a spirit of some kind (that includes the Earth), because everything was spiritually created before it was physically created. Man is a special creation, but hardly the only creation.

    “And if you are arguing that it wasnt a sin on the grounds that it made us progress, made us more like god, then you need a new argument: that ones as old as the devil”
    Unless you believe Satan wasn’t telling a straight lie, but really a half-truth. He was manipulating a situation that was necessary for his own purposes. Was it a sin? Perhaps on fundamental grounds, but Mormonism calls it a transgression (meaning a breaking of a law with consequences and not a damnable offense). Now, if they would have taken of the tree of life, then it would have been a complete sin as they would have forever been in their transgressive state – or in other words damned.

    ” it is far more important that we submit to gods will than that we have knowledge”
    It is only in knowledge that we know God’s will, and thus we had to drop out of the Garden to learn and follow Him. If we remained, then we would have been nothing more than automatons. Mortality and lack of innocence allows us to freely give of ourselves, or not. In this way of suffering and death we mortals are forced to reach for God to save us and thus gain more knowledge of God. As stated above, “This is life eternal, to know the true God and the Son who He has sent.” Faith is the stepping stone to knowledge and knowledge of the Word is the means of Salvation.

    ” Yes, haveing feet makes me more whole, an dhaving knowlage makes my mind more whole: but never let it be said that the infants, the autistic, or the ignorant people wjo through mere misfortun edo not have the opertunity to learn will not be protecte and accepted by him. I think being tol d”no” by god qualifies as not having the opertunity. Or perhaps he planned on givin gthem legitamate opertunities once they showed trust and love.”

    The irony here is that you are teaching classic Mormonism with these thoughts. With Mormonism, the Atonement of Jesus Christ covers the innocent who have no opportunity to hear the Word. That doesn’t mean they won’t hear the Word or remember them in the next life, but it does mean that what you don’t know will not hurt you (to be sure, in Mormonism it is also taught it is better to gain more knowledge now than later. On the other had, why is not really explained). We will be judged according to the depth of our knowledge of good and evil, not by how much knowledge we have.

  • As a Latter Day Saint I do not see my relationship with God as tenuous. When it comes down to it, everything we have in this world and in the eternities flows from his grace. Without him we would literally be and have nothing. Though a part of us may be uncreated, without God it would be as unorganized and chaotic as particles or matter would be. God shaped us and have us a soul to guide us on our journey to become like him. I tend all praise and worship to him and not to myself at all.

  • No matter how good things in the book written by Mormons and for Mormons, when their god is not same God – the God of Abraham, Jacob, and Isaac, the God of Christians as revealed by Yeshua the Messiah, and no matter how much the writer talks of religious and ‘spiritual’ stuff and thrown names (Jesus, Christ, etc), it is going to be on the book shelf of Mormonism, I’m afraid. If I have a chance I might want to browse through (for my own cult-apologetic study), but also there are tens of books and hundreds of chapters and myriad of pages I love to go through to spare time for this book. Fortunately I find consolation by reading reviews such as this one. Anything man says and writes, like anything man made (including ‘religions’ ‘churches’) is simply of men. Whether it has anything of God, one has to be always critical, cynical, and even sarcastic to extract out b.s. (brilliant stuff), b.s. (banal stuff), and real b.s. (baloney stuff). Is it true to see that the very title of the book smells like patripassianism, anthropomorphism par excellence?