Universalism with Boundaries

…[O]ur Father’s plan is big enough for all His children…

Elder Quentin L. Cook’s talk from the recently concluded General Conference presents a useful and compelling presentation of what might be called a contemporary Mormon account of Christian universalism, a doctrine of how salvation can be extended to all.   One of the virtues of the talk is that it is clear enough in its presentation to make its own paradoxical limitations spring vividly to life: what Elder Cook discusses is a universalism with boundaries, a plan big enough to save all God’s children except the ones who are left out. Cook describes his talk as focused specifically on one theme that, in his experience, is particularly difficult for people of a religious disposition: the apparent contrast between the idea that God loves us and “the incorrect doctrine that most of mankind would be doomed to eternal hell.”  In his talk, Cook offers three examples of individuals troubled by this tension: his great, great grandfather; the Anglican writer Frederick Farrar; and Lord Alfred Tennyson.  I am curious about this list, which is fine enough as far as it goes, yet seems unnecessarily 19th-century, not to mention overwhelmingly miscellaneous, in nature.  This is merely an oddity, of course.  It seems perfectly clear that Cook could have listed as many 20th- or 21st-century individuals with this particular concern as he desired.

Over against the doctrine that most people will go to hell forever, Cook offers

the marvelous doctrine revealed to the prophet Joseph [which] unveiled to us a plan of salvation that is applicable to all mankind including those who do not hear of Christ in this life, children who die before the age of accountability, and those who have no understanding.

To this claim, of a plan of salvation which applies to everyone, a Calvinist could reply with full justification, “We have one of those, too.”  After all, a plan of salvation applies to each person who is subject to its provisions, even if that person is damned because of those provisions.  Thus, in a Calvinist world, all people are subject to the plan by which God’s purposes choose some to become the elect and others to be damned.  The plan is no less applicable to the damned than to the elect; it’s just a lot less pleasant.

Cook, of course, has something a bit different and more universal in mind than merely a plan that applies to everyone.  Instead, his talk reaches for a presentation of Mormon theology as offering a plan of salvation that provides benefits to everyone.  Consider the following elaboration of that plan:

[B]ecause of the atonement of Jesus Christ, all spirits blessed by birth will ultimately be resurrected, spirit and body reunited, and inherit kingdoms of glory that are superior to our existence here on earth.

Oh, but the caveats.  Note that this statement already has one: anyone who was not born is already outside the borders of God’s universal plan.  However, Cook has more caveats to offer.  The very next sentence explains,

The exceptions are confined to those who, like Satan and his angels, willfully rebel against God.

Well and good.  Who would argue that Satan and his angels deserve eventual salvation?  (Actually, some would, possibly including the Christian father Origen.)  Yet “willfully rebelling” against God is actually a difficult concept to pin down, and there are substantial resources within the Mormon tradition for constructing an argument that all sin involves such willful rebellion — otherwise, one might claim, the act would merely be transgression and not sin.  So are all sinners outside God’s plan of salvation?  Surely not, but the boundaries are evidently both real and somewhat underdetermined.

A more specific and, to my mind, discouraging instance of boundary-drawing occurs earlier in Cook’s talk.  After a reference to London’s recent bus-side sign warfare regarding the existence of God, Cook states:

Non-believers find it hard to accept the miracles of the Old and New Testament and the Savior’s virgin birth and resurrection.  They view these events with the same skepticism as the appearance of God, the Father, and Jesus Christ to the Prophet Joseph Smith.  They are not open to the possibility of a heavenly plan presided over by a supreme being.  They do not have faith.  My principal concern is for the honorable people on the earth who are open to religious faith but have been discouraged or confused by incorrect doctrine.

I am sure that Elder Cook does not mean that those who are non-religious are all outside the boundaries of God’s plan of salvation; this is a statement delimiting the audience for Cook’s talk, not the set of people who will eventually be saved.  Nonetheless, it is jarring for a talk about the inclusiveness of God’s plan to begin with such an explicit statement of exclusion.  Why are those who currently lack faith not as central in our outreach as those who have faith that simply differs from our own?  What are the obstacles to seeing skepticism as a product of discouragement due to incorrect doctrine?  Clearly there are some, and a less charitable reading of skepticism has obviously prevailed.  This seems a result worthy of some regret.

In the conclusion to his talk, Elder Cook draws on ideas about the bounded universalism of our understanding of the plan of salvation to offer suggestions for how we treat those of other faiths, as well as skeptics and inactive members within our own tradition.  We are urged in particular to refrain from criticism of other Christian faiths, which “do much good” and “bless mankind.”  I wonder why we should not similarly avoid criticising those faiths outside the Christian tradition that also do good in the world — and especially why Elder Cook himself seems willing to criticize those of no faith tradition as a group, even when some such individuals have certainly acted in ways large and small for the good of the world.

I liked this talk a great deal.  I agree with Elder Cook that the elements of inclusiveness in Latter-day Saint understandings of the plan of salvation are worthy of celebration.  I resonate to Cook’s call for us to be “loving and kind,” both to people of other faith traditions and to “members of our own faith regardless of their level of commitment and activity.”  These are, I think, the messages Elder Cook would have us take from his talk.

But the limits to Elder Cook’s universalistic commitments are at least equally telling.  Even when we want to celebrate the inclusiveness of God’s plan, it seems, we can’t stop marking boundaries.

Bookmark Universalism with Boundaries

Comments

  1. Thanks Jay. I thought it was possibly one of the most inclusionary talks we’ve seen in some time. A very interesting message. Our course we make boundaries — but I don’t know that they eclipsed Cook’s intent.

  2. J. Nelson-Seawright says:

    Steve, I certainly wouldn’t claim that they did eclipse Cook’s intent. The boundaries are just… Interesting. They point to areas where we’re even more uncomfortable than we are in our relations with competing flavors of Christianity.

  3. Totally agree. In some ways this talk is a roadmap to our relationship with American Christianity more than anything.

  4. Aaron Brown says:

    It is sometimes said (by us) that anti-LDS prejudice is one of the few remaining socially acceptable prejudices. But I think that anti-atheist sentiment is at least as prevalent, and quite unjustifiably so. In the same way that knee-jerk anti-gay animus tends to subside once an individual starts making the acquaintance of, or even befriending, homosexuals, I suspect unfounded prejudices against those without faith would subside if we’d all just expand the scope of our associations.

    I love atheists! I’m sure God does too.

    (I am not commenting on Elder Cook’s talk, or his intent, at all, as I missed the live talk. But some of this post’s content brought these thoughts to mind).

    AB

  5. Kevin Barney says:

    I love the fact that we don’t believe in hell as such and have a very positive vision of the afterlife. The orthodox Christian dogma that the vast majority of humanity will burn in endless terment is not something I would either want to embrace or defend.

  6. In my heretical universalism, I assume it is voluntary. That is to say, I think that God will save everyone who wants His salvation. I have enough faith in humanity to assume that will be most of us. There is sufficient scriptural reference to those unwilling to accept God’s salvation to make the possibility of some people rejecting God’s salvation a likelihood, even if not widespread. If God is as committed to agency as we believe he is, I don’t see a way out of that.

  7. a plan big enough to save all God’s children except the ones who are left out.
    That’s awesome.

  8. God wants people to work really hard to become more like him; to love him and to love and serve each other. Real live universalism is a terrible motivator to get humans to do those things. For that reason I doubt we will ever see the church preach full-fledged universalism, even if it is true. (And I think God wants it that way — see D&C 19 where God almost begrudgingly lets the cat out of the bag about so-called “eternal punishment”).

  9. Yet “willfully rebelling” against God is actually a difficult concept to pin down, and there are substantial resources within the Mormon tradition for constructing an argument that all sin involves such willful rebellion… So are all sinners outside God’s plan of salvation?

    This seems to me quite a strained analysis of Cook’s intent. If you want to say that he could be misunderstood, then fine, but I have a very hard time believing you personally misunderstood his intent in such a way as to allow this argument to be cogent. It is a well worn idea in Mormonism that the only reason Satan and his angels can’t be saved is that they are perpetually and consistently in willful rebellion. Of course all of us sinners are willfully rebellious on occasion, which is why we repent. But if someone refuses to repent, ever, then they cannot be saved. The BofM is quite strong on this point. To ask if this means all sinners are outside God’s plan just seems to intentionally misconstrue the implications of Cook’s intent here.

  10. #6. Go back to the talk Elder Maxwell gave a few years ago based on Alma 29. Alma talks about us getting exactly what we want. I have always found it interesting about the typical Christian view of heaven. It roughly equates to what I consider the Terrestrial Kingdom. If they are the good men of the earth, but never accept the fullness of the gospel, that is what they get. And it is exactly what they aspire to. Both the Christians who believe in their heaven and Latter-day Saints believe they (typical Christians) will inherit the same place.

  11. Tony B,

    Universalism in Mormonism usually comes in the form of accepting the idea of progression between kingdoms.

  12. #11 it’s actually much more complex than that in early Mormonism. I’m not sure how it is instantiated currently, but even non-progressive lower glory might have been included in the “no-hell” model, though simultaneously there was a sense that the heaven family could encompass almost everyone, implying that the celestial glory was within reach for many.

  13. Good point Sam; there is that whole section 76 thing. The fact that all but the sons of perdition are considered saved in Mormon scriptures is a form of universalism in itself. Universalism in that form is not even controversial in the church. I was thinking of a more robust version of universalism that assumes there is progression between kingdoms and eternal free will for spirits (which could logically lead to universal exaltation over the eternities to come).

  14. J. Nelson-Seawright says:

    Jacob, nice comment. It may be a well-worn idea in Mormonism that Satan could be saved any time if he just repented tomorrow, but I’ve not heard it before. Most of the Mormon discourse that I’ve heard suggests that willful rebellion can be a one-way ticket. For instance, I’ve heard a lot of people claim that Judas committed suicide when he correctly realized that nothing he or anyone else could do could ever result in his salvation after betraying Jesus.

    Of course I don’t think that Cook thinks all sinners are outside God’s plan. It’s a ridiculously uncharitable reading of my post to think I meant that. If you go back to the text, you’ll find that my hypothetical question in this vein is followed with the words, “Surely not.” The point was simply that the exception is an ill-bounded vacuna in the universalism of the talk — not that it includes everyone or even most people.

  15. JNS, I love exchanging accusations of uncharitable readings. Awesome. I appreciate your response.

    I saw your “surely not,” but even with this caveat that the suggestion of the previous sentence was outlandish and not possibly what Cook had in mind, I wasn’t sure why you included it in the first place. My most charitable reading of that paragraph leads me to think you were trying to illustrate the unboundedness of Cook’s caveat by showing that his language in the caveat (“willful rebellion”) could even be applied to garden variety sinners. Did I get it? My point would be that to illustrate the unboundedness you should choose something that could (in context) reasonably be considered to fall within his caveat. Otherwise, instead of illustrating the unboundedness of what he said, you show that his words could be twisted in unreasonable ways if taken out of context.

    Cook said that there is an exception to salvation reserved only for those who willfully rebel against God in the same fashion as Satan and his angels. That seems a reasonable statement to me. If it is ill-bounded, I suspect it is not Cook’s fault, but rather, because the same scripture which gives us the caveat goes on to tell us that God has never revealed the precise situation and destiny of Satan (D&C 76:44-46).

    P.S. Have you really never heard in Mormonism the idea that Satan could be saved if he repented?

  16. J. Nelson-Seawright says:

    Jacob — I’m glad you saw the fun in the uncharitable readings point… Now that we’ve cleared a bit of noise from the channel, as it were…

    My point was exactly to illustrate how Cook’s caveat is unbounded in that it is non-trivial to explain exactly why any given individual does not fall into that caveat. I don’t think that Cook thinks very many people do fit in this category. However, I think it is nonetheless true that Cook’s explanation (and, indeed most explanations) of this idea are unspecific enough that they could reasonably support positions which were several orders of magnitude different from each other. Thus, some Mormon thinkers have in all seriousness argued that everyone who ever has and then loses a testimony belongs in this category, while others impose what sometimes appear to me as ad hoc solutions such as claiming that the category only includes those who had previously had a literal, physical vision of God. Plausible numerical counts (and associated logics of applicability) for how many people might fall in the caveat could range from a number on the order of magnitude of 20 to perhaps a figure on the order of 2,000,000. Whether this is a minor or a major exception to a universalistic position is thus fundamentally unclear, and language about willful rebellion doesn’t really clarify.

    I don’t think this is Cook’s fault, as it really just reveals an underlying ambiguity in our system of commitments. We want to believe in a system that benefits everyone in the eternities, and yet we also want to believe in a system that contains serious punishment for the “worst of the worst” and allows people to opt out of salvation. This is a tricky balance, and one that isn’t well worked out. Cook, who is not a theologian, certainly isn’t to blame for that. I think the talk is useful because it shows these murky areas, not defective because it hasn’t resolved them.

    And, yes, it’s really true that I haven’t heard Mormons talk about the idea that Satan might be saved through repentance, except in the last couple of years online. But then again, online, I also hear Mormons talk about reincarnation and the transmigration of souls, so I have to take that stuff with a grain of salt. (Kidding, Geoff! I love you, man!)

  17. omoplata says:

    I define “willful rebellion” as calmly and clearly, without the weaknesses/imperfections of the flesh, in full and perfect knowledge of the eternal truth, choosing to rebel against every aspect of the order of God.

    When we sin, we sin because the “spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Yes, we may know that a particular action is wrong, but we succumb to an emotional or physical temptation which we have not mastered yet. Of course, succumb enough times and one can become twisted enough to be beyond feeling, but I believe that the first crime/sin committed did make that person pause for a second to wonder if it was the right thing to do. I believe repentance is the process by which we align the willingness of our spirits with the weakness of our flesh (body and life experience) – ie improve our mastery of our flesh, our temporal life to match what we inherently know to be true. And as we continually do this, more knowledge is slowly revealed to us, wherein we sin, repent and make our flesh “catch up” to that revealed knowledge…line upon line.

    But none or very, very few of us have had the full extent of light and knowledge and the complete truth revealed to us. The extent of truth and knowledge each of us have, determines the severity of punishment for violation of that truth. We are often told that one of the reasons Jesus spoke in parables was to protect the ignorant from greater punishment. For the same reason, I have not seen God for my own protection: I am too weak to abide by the responsibilities of having a perfect knowledge of God’s existence. I will most likely continue to sin and now those sins have much greater consequence than they did before such a theoretical vision of the heavens.

    Satan and his followers cannot be redeemed by the same logic. Satan made his choice, with full and complete knowledge of the truth. We often think of Satan’s rebellion as simply not wanting to follow God’s plan, sort of a like a rebellious kid that doesn’t follow the rules…nothing could be further from the truth. Satan was more like a revolutionary attempting to overthrow the government, attempting to remove God from power and take God’s glory. There can be no repenting from this because repentance is a characteristic, I believe, unique to mortal existence, with a brief extension into Spirit Prison until Judgment Day. But once resurrection and judgment has been rendered, there is no more repentance: Each person is placed in a kingdom/sphere of specific laws and that person will from then on, keep the laws of that kingdom perfectly for all eternity.

  18. J. Nelson-Seawright says:

    omoplata, I’ve heard the arguments that you offer before. While I think they do a reasonable job of bounding Mormon universalism, they have what appears to me to be the serious limitation of being sort of ad hoc and based more on verbal folklore than on either canonized texts or rigorous logic from initial theological axioms.

    In particular, the main canonized text about “perdition” doesn’t impose the kind of “full and perfect knowledge” criterion that you’re talking about. It makes reference to people who “deny the Son after the Father has revealed him,” which is evidently intended to be the same thing as what other texts describe as “denying the Holy Ghost.” This equivalence suggests that the revelation in question need neither entail absolute and full knowledge nor necessarily a special personal visitation. The other criteria seem to me to be specializations developed to resolve anxiety regarding these apparently unforgivable transgressions. They might be right, but the specializations aren’t closely based on the scriptures and as such lack some authority.

  19. Eveningsun says:

    Writes Omoplata 17: I define “willful rebellion” as calmly and clearly, without the weaknesses/imperfections of the flesh, in full and perfect knowledge of the eternal truth, choosing to rebel against every aspect of the order of God. That’s a wonderful, careful definition, and it would explain why Satan cannot be redeemed. But I think the definition itself might be inherently contradictory. Consider your example: Satan was more like a revolutionary attempting to overthrow the government, attempting to remove God from power and take God’s glory. It seems to me Satan would only do that if he thought he had a reasonable chance of succeeding. But if he truly thought he had a chance of succeeding, of actually removing God from power, then his “knowledge of the eternal truth” could hardly be considered “full and perfect.” I just don’t see how Satan’s rebellion can be qualitatively removed from the category of ordinary sin, in which “we sin because the ‘spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak,'” in which “we may know that a particular action is wrong, but we succumb to an emotional or physical temptation which we have not mastered yet,” etc.

  20. J. Nelson-Seawright says:

    Eveningsun, excellent point.

  21. Mark A. Clifford says:

    Elder Cook’s talk was magnificent.
    Mormon Universalism is my favorite feature of a religion long on good qualities. We are not that comfy with the implications of this most beautiful and central of our doctrines, like it is too much to believe, or something, like the light is just too bright. We qualify it, we dim it. Okay, that is only natural, sunglassess to block the majesty of Noonday.
    So we underestimate the appeal and the beauty of Mormon Heaven, and of the awesome Mormon Plan. Heaven, as we understand it, is a big place with several Kingdoms of Glory, enough to accomodate all of mankind. I stagger when I think about this, the notion that rather than the vast majority of people winding up in hell, which is the common view, right – an eternity of horrid punishment, forever – we all go to Heaven instead. Okay, that represents a slight modification of the Christian norm. Seriously. Think about it. If properly considered I see no way that this understanding should not completely revolutionize the religious world. Heaven. Everyone. Turns out, God is good. Suprise!
    The Mormon way of understanding God is to see Him as valuing human souls enough to embrace us, to continue to seek us, and ultimately to save us, even though it is at a high cost to Himself. I think that Mormonism does (can do? is doing? whatever) a perfect job of balancing the issues of the cost of salvation (the Atonement) and the motivations for offering it (the benificent nature of God) in such a way that salvation is Universal but not “cheap”. A deep valuing of human souls, and the goodness of God, together require that He come for us. Any God that does not act to save all of His children is not any God worthy of worship. Luckily, if your God is Jesus, you do not have that problem. Becuase He is coming for you, even if He has to go all of the way to Hell to get you. That is why He has the keys to that place; to let people out.
    God will not fail to labor until the end for the salvation of every one of his children. Alma the Younger reports after his rebirth that he was returned from the brink of damnation
    “that they (that is, all of you, and me) might know that He will visit every creature of His creating.” He will come for all of us. Joseph Smith said:
    “All will suffer in the eternal world until they obey Christ himself and are exalted. Hence, the salvation of the Savior Jesus Christ was wrought out for all men to triumph over the works of the devil; if the plan did not catch them in one place, it would in another.” (that is from the amalgamated text of the KFD).
    If the Sons of Perdition are not saved, you can bet that it will not be from God’s lack of trying. Same goes for me; if I am not saved, you can bet it will not be God’s fault. Satan wanted (I guess) to force us all to be saved. But I think that Jesus knew, and knows, a secret. He does not have to force us at all. Ultimately, Divine love is going to get us, and we will all come willingly, when He comes for us. I hope that I will come willingly, when He comes for me.
    Love. That is how they get you.
    Mormonism rocks.

  22. JNS,

    You make a good point and as always you articulate it well. I agree that a variety of opinions have been expressed within Mormonism, which helps to support your concern about the bounding.

    Allow me to challenge your claim about the explanations above being ad hoc. I will concede that we don’t have a solid canonical definition for the sons of perdition, but we do have statements from Joseph Smith on the matter from which we get the explanations you say are ad hoc. Are you saying Joseph’s explanation is ad hoc, or are you suggesting that when we make the argument now it is ad hoc? Or, do you challenge the idea that the explanation comes from JS? I am thinking specifically of the Woodruff report of the KFD, of which I know you are familiar, but here is the relevant quote:

    No man can commit the unpardonable sin, untill he receives the Holy Ghost, All will suffer untill they obey Christ himself, even the devil said I am a savior and can save all, he rose up in rebelion against God and was cast down,. Jesus Christ will save all except the sons of perdition. What must a man do to commit the unpardonable sin they must receive the Holy Ghost have the heavens opened unto them, & know God, & then sin against him, this is the case with many apostates in this Church, they never seease to try to hurt me, they have got the same spirit the devil had, you cannot save them, they make open war like the devil (BOAP, italics mine)

    The Encyclopedia of Mormonism also has a relevant passage which seems to hit the high points:

    Sons of perdition are not merely wicked; they are incorrigibly evil. In sinning against the revelations of the Holy Ghost, they have sinned against the greater light and knowledge of God. They willfully and utterly pervert principles of righteousness and truth with which they were once endowed, and transform them into principles of evil and deception. Joseph Smith declared, “You cannot save such persons; you cannot bring them to repentance” (TPJS, p. 358). (EOM, Sons of Perdition)

  23. Mark Clifford: We are not that comfy with the implications of this most beautiful and central of our doctrines

    Who do you mean when you say “we”?

  24. #19 – Maybe the difference between Satan’s sin and ours is that it is our flesh that is weak, even as our spirit is willing. According to our theology, Lucifer never had the chance to battle a weak flesh, specifically because his spirit wasn’t willing.

  25. Mark A. Clifford says:

    Ray:
    Probably, I mean “me”, I am not comfy.
    Maybe, I mean “you”, but I do not know you well enough to be absolutely certain.
    Generally, I mean “Mormons”.

  26. Mark A. Clifford says:

    Sorry, I meant Geoff (but probably you too, Ray).

  27. avisitor says:

    There is a difference between mistakes or transgressions of God’s laws made by the ignorant or innocent, and the “sin” of knowingly pitting our own wills against that of the Father on purpose. Our intentions and motives are known to God just as well as our actions are, and I think they matter a great deal in determining the degree of our “filthiness” before Him.

    The idea that ALL of Heavenly Father’s children will eventually achieve exaltation (through advancement between kingdoms after the judgment etc) is benevolent and altruistic, it’s just not scriptural. There is no revealed evidence that ALL of His children wanted or accomplished the same things premortally or that they will postmortally. And the overwhelming evidence we do have proves that they certainly don’t desire or strive for the same things during mortality.

    Even among Church members, there are those who are dedicated to serving the Lord and doing His will in all things they possibly can, while others will do some things but not others, as well as those who end up choosing not to do anything at all. All have been offered the same blessings, the same degree of salvation/exaltation, the chance to live with God and their families eternally and obtain all that the Father has to offer.

    All might want all the blessings and benefits of exaltation, but that desire must be followed with the faith and obedience required to obtain them. More accurately, God’s plan is a plan big enough to save (exalt) all of His children who are willing to submit to and participate in His established process.

  28. #27 – “More accurately, God’s plan is a plan big enough to save (exalt) all of His children who are willing to submit to and participate in His established process.”

    Given our acceptance of the possibility of salvation for all regardless of the natural circumstances of their mortal experience (those who never knew of Christ, children, the disabled, etc.), I would say that “willing to submit to and participate in His established process” is much more restrictive than our actual theology would indicate. I’m not arguing for universal exaltation and progression through the kingdoms in that statement; I just think the wording of that quote is misleadingly exclusive.

  29. Jacob J., thanks for providing the quotes. These are indeed the primary sources for the later interpretations that I think are ad hoc. What I’m talking about is a family of readings that narrowly construes the language about revelation in the D&C or in the King Follett text. The D&C passage seems compatible with knowledge of Jesus through the Holy Ghost as a possible prerequisite for the kind of sin that leads to perdition. So also with the King Follett material. Having the Holy Ghost enlighten the mind might be the content of phrases such as “heavens opened unto them” and “know God.” In fact, the next phrase, which claims that “many apostates” meet these criteria might be seen as arguing for a broad interpretation of these ideas, because there weren’t really that many apostates who had experienced full-scale visions of the heavens, etc. Instead, most seem to have had experiences that were more of the order of magnitude of what contemporary Mormons talk about in testimony meetings. In effect, what I think happens is that people see these texts, which are compatible with an uncomfortably wide range of possibilities, and quickly proceed to interpret them in the narrowest and most reassuring plausible sense. I don’t mean in saying this that the broadest reading of these texts is necessarily best, either; instead, I mean that the magnitude of this exception to universalism is remarkably unclear.

  30. avisitor says:

    Ray-

    That quote was in response to J’s misleading comment regarding ” a plan big enough to save all God’s children except the ones who are left out.”
    This insinuates that some have been “left out” by someone else-rather than excluding themselves by choice.

    We accept that every human being who ever lived will be “saved” from physical death and obtain a resurrected body at some point, without exception.

    Those who do not hear the gospel message during mortality (other than children who die before age 8 and those who are mentally handicapped) will be given the chance to hear the gospel message after they die and either accept or reject it. If they accept it, they will have to repent for their mortal sins, accept the necessary ordinances done for them by proxy, and devote themselves to the eternal laws and principles that govern exaltation in the celestial kingdom. Those who reject it will suffer for their own sins before obtaining a different, but glorious kingdom.

  31. #30 – I understand. I was only commenting on how the words could be interpreted as being overly restrictive – ironically, in a different way than the original it was addressing. My comment simply was a clarification – not an assertion that I thought you personally excluded those I mentioned.

  32. omoplata says:

    #18 – Canon (Bible,BoM,D&C,PoGP) is inconclusive on the topic, so yes, I extrapolate a bit from statements made by modern day prophets. I think your definition of perdition fits mine. To “deny the Son after the Father has revealed Him” is tantamount, as indicated by some General Authorities to, “staring at the sun and claiming there is no light”. To me, thats pretty clear that you must have perfect knowledge of that one thing. There have been a handful of times that the “Father has revealed His Son”. Joseph Smith’s 1st vision is one of them. I would think that such a vision should cement in the recipient a perfect knowledge of the Son. Perhaps you don’t need *all* perfect knowledge, but you can be given bits and pieces, each to its perfection. Martin Harris had perfect knowledge of the Golden Plates. I have but faith in them. MH could not deny them, and I claim were he to do so, would be in danger of perdition.

    Note there is a difference between the “unforgivable sin” (denying the HG, murder, etc) and being a son of perdition. Many will commit the unforgivable sin and suffer for their own sins, which suffering is what Christ suffered, and having thus paid for their own sins, will enter in the the lowest kingdom, the telestial. But earth born people cast into perdition, as I understand it, will be very few in number…something about counting them on 1 hand.

    #19 – I don’t think 33% of the host of heaven is an insignificant number and thus there was a mathematical possibility of Satan’s success. You are saying that if Satan did have full knowledge of the truth, it would be illogical to rebel against that truth. And thus he must have decided to rebel due to some degree of ignorance. And thus Satan’s sin is simply a more grievous version of our own…

    I disagree. I think there is a difference between prescience and simply knowing the truth of something to perfection. I KNOW 1+1=2 to absolute perfection and I don’t need to be able to predict the future to know it. Satan may not have known perfectly the future, but I wager in the pre-existence, he knew pretty much the complete picture of his present. He was under no undue influence, no evil, exterior force. He simply IS evil, a being contrary to God’s law as his core nature. He wasn’t tricked into it or pushed or persuaded. I think he simply cannot abide by any of God’s laws. I don’t think its a matter of if Satan repents. I don’t think Satan is capable of it. Wondering if Satan could or would repent and become good is equivalent to wondering if God could sin and become evil. Unpossible!

  33. I don’t think 33% of the host of heaven is an insignificant number

    Just a note — The scriptures don’t say 33%. They say “a third part” but it does say how may people were in each “part”.

  34. Eveningsun says:

    #32 — He [Satan] simply IS evil, a being contrary to God’s law as his core nature…. Wondering if Satan could or would repent and become good is equivalent to wondering if God could sin and become evil. Unpossible! One is tempted to say here simply that with God ALL things are possible, but that’s not where my thoughts are headed right now. I’m no doubt part of a tiny minority on this one, but my own reading of scripture, like that of Jack Miles, makes it pretty clear to me that God HAS sinned: global flood, conquest of Canaan, etc. Mine is a dynamic God whose “perfection,” just like ours, is a process (primarily of moral development) rather than a fully achieved state. Ditto for Satan, perhaps, only in reverse. “Corruption,” too, is a process rather than a fully achieved state (if that’s the right word–I guess “failed state” would be better). Sure, God and Satan might have some “core nature” in the sense that each possesses some intrinsic quality that pushes them in the directions they have followed–but not in the sense of always-and-already being-and-having-been what they are now.

  35. J. Nelson-Seawright says:

    omoplata, you express your ideas well and passionately. I’d dissent from your characterization that you “extrapolate a bit.” Your ideas are 90% extrapolation, to my reading. Nothing you quote implies “perfect knowledge.” The quotes require some degree of experience, although the nature of the experience is basically unclear. Especially if we adopt contemporary Mormon perspectives in which emotional experience via the Holy Ghost is treated as equivalent to visionary experience, there is no reason why a Mormon would have to think that an impressive visionary experience is essential to the kind of knowledge in question. The Martin Harris example serves as an interesting case in point; Harris described his knowledge of the Book of Mormon as arriving through the “eyes of faith,” rather than through his physical eyes. This doesn’t make the experience less real for him, but it does suggest that it might not have been fundamentally different in kind from the testimonies LDS folks routinely express on Fast Sundays.

    Your ideas aren’t necessarily wrong, of course. They’re just not authoritative or (probably) even a majority position among Mormons. It’s a point of view; my argument is simply that there are many points of view on this topic with equal justification.

    On your Satan theory, your ideas don’t seem too persuasive to me. If Satan knew the complete picture of his present (and assuming standard doctrines of God’s transcendent power compared with Satan), he would have known that God was basically infinitely more powerful than him, and that he couldn’t have won even if he had everyone on his side and not just the “third part.” So we’re talking about an act of irrationality, at the least. Your claim that Satan is evil in his core nature is standard contemporary Christianity, to be sure, but not particularly scripturally certain in my view.

  36. omoplata says:

    #33 – I interpret “third part” = one third = 1/3 = 33%. The actual number of spirits that left with Satan is irrelevant. God “won” with 66% of the vote, so to speak. While a clear victory, it was hardly a shoo-in.

    #34 – I agree that once upon a time, Satan was known as Lucifer, son of the morning, a presumptuously righteous being. And that “As man now is, God once was”. This implies regression and progression, respectively. However, I don’t take that to mean that God is still making mistakes and that Satan, by contrast, is somehow doing some good! Whether or not they’re still progressing/regressing (a separate discussion), they’ve both passed a threshold which has permanently cemented who they are. For Satan, it was not keeping his 1st Estate. For God, it was earning resurrection and Eternal Life. To me this means Satan is now 100% evil by nature. God is 100% good by nature and there is no turning back, no changing minds, changing careers. Pre-mortal life was the point of choosing good over evil, and mortal life determines just what degree of good we are willing to follow.

    Regarding the idea that the God of the Old Testament has sinned: impossible. One of the reasons murder is a sin (besides a host of others) is that the murderer presumes a godlike role. But if God deems it necessary to flood the earth, then because he IS God, it becomes right. What God says and does is law. If God commands that every Canaanite be killed, then it is right. I teach my children simple absolutes because at their stage in life, that is exactly what they must learn. But for children to judge a parent’s violation of one of those simple absolutes without context is ludicrous. I instruct my children to always tell the truth, yet I tell them to lie if asked by a stranger if mommy or daddy is home.

  37. J. Nelson-Seawright says:

    omoplata, I wonder why you think the Council/War/Whatever in Heaven was a democratic election?

  38. omoplata says:

    #35 – I make no claim my views are anything but opinion and that many different and equally unauthoritative views exist, yours included ;-)

    I don’t think we need a passage of scripture to say that a personal visitation from God the Father and the Son is superior to the spiritual witness of a fast and testimony meeting. To actually see the Father or Son isn’t just like meeting your friend for lunch. As indicated by both Abraham and Moses in the PoGP, the individuals involved need to be transfigured, with God’s glory upon them to be able to *survive* the experience. Both Abraham, Moses and accounts of modern day visitations all indicate complete exhaustion, physical, emotional and spiritual. There is absolutely no way that such a personal visitation and revelation is on equal plane with the spiritual witness you and I receive. And I say this without degrading or devaluing the Holy Ghost! The witness of the HG is sufficiently powerful for all of us and is the default method of communication. But when the glory of the eternities is revealed to a prophet, its not done with just promptings and feelings, its done by the Son or the Father Himself. Again, keep in mind, for the majority of us, a personal visitation may be *no more effective* than the HG. But that is a statement of OUR immaturity.

    And regarding Martin Harris, need I remind you of the Testimony of the Three Witnesses found in the BofM: “we declare…that an angel of God came down from heaven, and he brought and laid before our eyes, that we beheld and saw the plates…”

    Finally regarding Satan. I’m not entirely certain Satan was planning on winning. He simply could not abide by any of God’s law and therefore wanted out. In the Temple endowment, he seems fairly content with his role and its occurrence “elsewhere”. He and his minions will eventually be placed in their own sphere where they can do whatever they want with themselves, but will no longer interact with anyone else…outer darkness.

    I welcome scriptural evidence to show he isn’t evil to his core or that he is redeemable…

  39. Mark A. Clifford says:

    Some of us (we know who we are) seem to be unhappy with the notion of God being expansively merciful. Does it make God seem too good? Or Mormonism too embracing? The love of God! Drat it, it is so complicated. How could He want to save everyone? That is impossible! (The solution is somehow always to be found in Martin Harris’ “spirtual eyes”. How does that always come up? It seems as unpersuasive now as ever).
    What is the motivation for this need to find some way to damn people? What is it? Isn’t life hard enough?

    D&C 29:28 and so forth.
    28. Wherefore I will say unto them—Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels. (sounds bad, sounds scary.)
    29. And now, behold, I say unto you, never at any time have I declared from mine own mouth that they should return, for where I am they cannot come, for they have no power. (right, I never said it, don’t make me say it…)
    30. But remember that all my judgments are not given unto men (what? what was that?) and as the words have gone forth out of my mouth even so shall they be fulfilled, that the first shall be last, and that the last shall be first in all things whatsoever I have created by the word of my power, which is the power of my Spirit.
    God Don’t Make No Junk

  40. Eveningsun says:

    #36 — Because he IS God, it becomes right…. I think we’re just gonna disagree on this one. I’m with Plato (re The Euthyphro): The mere fact that God commands it doesn’t make it right. There’s an independent standard, and whichever way I look at certain scriptures, I can’t see how God does not at times violate that standard. We all have to learn. It seems to me quite plausible that a god, in the process of becoming God, would learn how to organize a world before completely mastering the much more difficult subject of morality. Perhaps that’s one of the lessons of scripture. Given that the process of learning the techniques of planet-creation seems comparatively mundane and superficial compared to the more difficult and interesting process of learning how to use one’s continually growing powers ethically, a good plot would start with the creation and launch right into the time when creator and creature alike encounter the great moral difficulties–I dare say, learning from each other as they go. Just makes for a better and more instructive story.

    #38 — I welcome scriptural evidence to show [Satan] isn’t evil to his core or that he is redeemable…. I guess the obvious example would be the Satan of the Book of Job. I don’t see any way of reading Job in which Satan is perfectly evil and God perfectly good.

  41. J. Nelson-Seawright says:

    omoplata, regarding Martin Harris, do recall the complexity there — Harris did not have the same shared experience that the other two witnesses reported having. Furthermore, note that the test doesn’t say what kinds of “eyes” were involved. Given Harris’s later statements, we have at least two alternatives. First, we can take him at his word that he had a transcendent experience that didn’t involve physical vision, and conclude that’s what he meant when he signed the witness statement. Second, we can conclude that he later recanted his witness statement and replaced it with the claim that spiritual and not physical eyes were involved in his experience. We might also try to finesse one or the other statement to make it fit our theology, but then we’re really removing Harris’s usefulness as an example of anything.

    My views on this subject are simply that there are a lot of views and none of them is clearly authoritative — i.e., that this is a poorly bounded exception to Mormon universalism. That may not be authoritative, but you agreed with me in your comment, so it’s at least got some value for us…

    Your idea that something more than the Holy Ghost needs to be involved for someone to become a child of perdition is noted. There’s no evidence for this position as against others, but that doesn’t make it wrong. It just can’t be sustained in argument; all that can really be offered is affirmation. We just don’t have evidence that could really resolve the question, I think.

    I’m with Eveningsun on the “God=morality” question. If morality is really so radically relative that it is defined by one person’s preferences, then it is a very different thing than we usually think of it as being. One way of thinking about this is to note that, if this is the case, then a competing system of morality could be constructed centered around a different person’s preferences. We could have morality-based-on-what-God-likes and also morality-based-on-what-Snoopy-likes. Each of these moralities would regard the other as imperfect, and there would be no independent basis for characterizing either as superior to the other. So, the choice of one or another of these systems would in fact be arbitrary. That can’t be what we mean when we say that murder is bad, for example.

  42. omoplata says:

    #40 – I find it curious that you believe that technological (for lack of better word) mastery should precede moral mastery. On the contrary, knowledge/power without its accompanying morals will result in destruction. The very purpose of this mortal life is to determine suitability, and then instruct and train us in morality before clothing us with godlike powers – better we make all our mistakes here on earth as mortals than as glorified, celestial beings with far more capacity to do damage.

    As for the independent standard…do you not think yourself a bit presumptuous to assume you *know* what that standard is? Do you not thus claim you have knowledge at least on the playing field of God’s to be able to question His actions? If you question a chess grandmaster’s move, certainly you must at least be grandmaster in chess yourself?

    As for Job, I see nothing that evidences Satan is anything but evil or that God is anything but good. Satan can be quite civil, charming in conversation. One might forget he is in fact talking with the prince of darkness. It is written that once we see Satan in his true form, as merely an individual, it will be rather anticlimactic. He doesn’t have to be a perpetually snarling, frothing at the mouth beast to be evil at his core. He can be an ordinary man, shake your hand and have lunch with you and still be 100% bona fide evil.

    Keep in mind, I define “evil” to be more like the yin/yang concept of good and evil. Evil is opposed to good. God is good, and Satan, being opposed to him, is thus evil.

    #41 – I find it a bit hard to accept that God’s morality = Snoopy’s morality! Surely you don’t believe God’s position so trivial to achieve that His morality is as arbitrary and equivalent to yours, mine or a cartoon dog!

    God=morality because a system is in place to ensure that only those who have demonstrated self control and obedience suitable for godhood will become such. Mortal life is so difficult a test precisely to weed out those who have a morality incompatible with a social order/government that can endure forever. I believe that God’s kingdom or government is the only organization capable of achieving that, without strife, conflict and destruction. Every spirit will be in his or her proper and *content* place to contribute positively in that government/society for eternity, from telestial to celestial.

    The Plan of Salvation, is a gloried version of, “as long as you live under my roof, you follow my rules.” And thus God=morality, because its His house, His rules, His morality. And we, in the pre-existence agreed to His rules and to abide in His house. Again, I don’t mean to be so flippant about God’s law and that its merely His version of things. God’s rules are the only way for an enduring happy society that can last forever.

    Satan refused to abide by those rules, so he left home, so to speak. And so he cannot ever live in God’s house. He will be cast out to live elsewhere.

  43. Eveningsun says:

    #42 — I find it curious that you believe that technological (for lack of better word) mastery should precede moral mastery. On the contrary, knowledge/power without its accompanying morals will result in destruction. Exactly–it will result in destruction! It will result in exactly what we see in the Flood story: a God who over-uses his awesome technical powers to wreck an entire planet and destroy hosts of innocents along with the guilty, and then, like a growing child just learning to handle his new strength, repents of what he has done, which is to say, learns from the experience.

    As for Job, I don’t see either God or Satan coming out of that story with their character intact. God and Satan have a petty quarrel, and in order to settle it God gives Satan the green light to kill Job’s relatives. Talk about using others as a means to one’s own ends! Talk about instrumentalism–what better example of that particular kind of immorality could there be?

    The scripture shows us a less-than-perfect God elsewhere as well–as when Abraham challenges God’s sense of justice at Sodom and when God tells Moses at Sinai to get out of the way so he can destroy all the Israelites…. I understand the impulse to see God as perfect and then read the scripture accordingly. But that’s a way of looking at things that is theology-driven, not scripture-driven.

  44. omoplata says:

    #43 – I’m not talking about human destruction, I’m referring to destruction in the celestial, cosmos sense. Giving god powers to the immature won’t result in the *mere* destruction of a few million people, it would destroy the universe itself.

    I see no scripture that says God repented of the Flood. He simply made a covenant to not flood the earth again. The word “repent” is used only in reference to before the flood: “And it repented Noah, and his heart was pained, that the Lord had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.” – JST Genesis 8:13

    Note this is in contrast to the KJV: “And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.”

    The KJV makes it appear that God had made a mistake creating man, but that is clearly refuted in the JST translation, and frankly the Plan Of Salvation.

    I don’t see how you can assume that Abraham and Moses were right and God, GOD was wrong! In fact, God was actually correct about Sodom, but was humoring Abraham, who actually could NOT find a single good person remaining in Sodom.

    Again, I find it presumptuous of you to assume that the Flood, Sodom, and other destruction is evidence of God’s immaturity. I certainly understand why you think so: millions(?) of people died in the Flood, both innocent and guilty. Such wholesale slaughter by God’s command is incompatible with your version of good, therefore God was in error…

    Where I take issue with you is the notion that if God takes a life/lives, innocent or otherwise, that act was evil, regardless of the circumstances or “big picture”. The commandment is that WE not take innocent life, for various reasons that need no explanation. I don’t claim God can take life just because He feels like it. He takes life when there is righteous, higher purpose for it. Just because that reason is not highlighted in the extremely incomplete portrayal that is the Old Testament doesn’t mean such greater purpose didn’t exist.

    In fact, wouldn’t you agree, especially when having godlike powers, that actively killing the innocent and idly watching someone else kill the innocent is the same thing? If I knowingly allow and watch my child to walk off a cliff as I just stand there, there is very little difference to pulling the trigger myself. In that case, isn’t God just messing up every second of the day as millions of innocents are suffering and dying?

    I’m sorry, I’ve been respectful before, but I find your claim that God is fallible, nay, incompetent, to be scriptural driven and not opinion-driven to be ludicrous. [ED: Watch it. This is close to the line.]

  45. J. Nelson-Seawright says:

    omoplata, your response comes perilously close to claiming that God defines morality because God is so powerful, i.e., might makes right. But when you invoke ideas like self-control and happiness, you’re implicitly relying on a moral basis independent of and logically prior to God. I don’t think you’ve worked this out fully.

  46. Eveningsun says:

    omoplata, I think mainly we’re just working from different assumptions here and aren’t likely to get much further–though I think it’s been good to trace out some of the implications of our differences.

    But I’d like to make an aside about the idea that “giving god-powers to the immature won’t result in the *mere* destruction of a few million people, it would destroy the universe itself.” But the flood was much more than a mere flood. It was not a lengthy rainstorm, it was the partial undoing of the creation itself. In Genesis, the cosmos is created by separating the waters above from the waters below–taming Leviathan, in the mythical terms whose traces remain in Genesis, Job, etc. Both the firmament and the earth, which by separating the waters had turned chaos into cosmos, were “broken up” to produce the flood. That’s god-scale destruction.

    Oh, one final note. One of the things I’ve always appreciated about JS’s idea that God did not create ex nihilo but worked with pre-existing materials to organize the cosmos is that it helps make sense of many of the very same scriptural “problems” underlying my comments about God. I see my position as being grounded in JS’s larger understanding here–even as I reject many of his specific revisions. I suppose you’ll find this highly disrespectful of prophetic authority, but I think that attributing repentance to Noah in that passage 1.) saps the story of much of its difficulty and power, and 2.) amounts to taking the theologically easy way out of a scriptural challenge, which I find both unusual for and unworthy of a prophet who elsewhere could be so fearless.

  47. omoplata says:

    JNS, I see you took the liberty to edit my post…ES claims his fallible God viewpoint is based on scripture and that my infallible God one is mere fanciful opinion…I take issue with people claiming their opinion is more than that. I didn’t say his *opinion* was ludicrous, but rather his belief that *his* was superior by simple proclamation.

    Regarding #45 – I believe the confusion lies because of the circular dependence between God and morality. God is all powerful because he is moral. Just where do you think God’s power comes from? God’s power comes from His righteousness, his morality, which morality is “to bring to pass the eternal life of man”. And because of this, billions and trillions of spirits follow Him, and those trillions of spirits in obedience through the Priesthood is God’s power.

    I believe that God has become the embodiment of righteousness and morality, distinct only in concept, but in practice, the same. As the scriptures say, if God is unjust, he ceases to be God (Alma 42:22). Thus the power of God, granted because of His righteousness, is only dispensed in righteousness, otherwise He ceases to be God. For all intents and purposes, God=morality.

  48. omoplata says:

    46 – I don’t find your disregard of the JST to be disrespectful. On the contrary, its simple cherry picking. I don’t see how you can claim consistency, indeed harmony with JS teachings when you yourself admit that some specific revelations of Joseph Smith you do not agree with!

    You claim that JST of the Flood simplifies things. Of course it does! That passage was originally mistranslated to create the incorrect notion of a repentant God. I’m sorry the JST removes the mystery and challenge, and cough, contradicts your point, cough. But there it is, scripture, which now you would conveniently disregard because its not harmonious with your views? I challenge your claim that your view is scripture-driven!

  49. Omoplata, please dial back the adamant rhetoric.

  50. omoplata says:

    Yes sir, as you wish.

  51. :)

  52. Eveningsun says:

    #48 — Guilty as charged, omoplata. You raise a good point, though I think it’s one that ultimately applies to all claims of reliance on scripture. Before I or anyone else can rely on scripture, I have to decide what that scripture is. Jewish Bible? Catholic Bible? Protestant Bible? Standard Works? Just those portions that strike me as truly inspired or worthy, e.g., only the words attributed to Jesus? only the authentically Pauline letters? only the Jefferson Bible? only those portions of the BoM that don’t seem patently to be adaptations of nineteenth-century Indian-origins theory?

    Prior to any “scripture-driven” argument lies a whole host of non-scriptural choices. However one chooses, the initial enabling choice can’t be scripture-driven, because one does not yet have a scripture to drive it. Anyway, you’re right to point out that my arguments are at least at times “extra”-scriptural. Certainly that’s true of what I choose to consider scripture in the first place–you would no doubt consider my choices ad hoc–not to mention what I consider scripture to be and how it should be read, e.g., as myth, as an attempt to convey profound truth via narrative. In the case of the JS revision I see a sort of anti-myth, an attempt to evade a profound truth via the revision of the narrative. And so I don’t accept it. For such boldness I have the example of JS himself, whom I just cannot imagine being all that upset with the lively sort of readerly independence that makes this blog so interesting.

  53. avisitor says:

    If I may insert a couple of points here…

    The idea that 2/3 of the premortal spirits “voted” for God’s plan-which is why “God won” and Satan “lost”-isn’t doctrinal. More correctly, 2/3 of the host of heaven sustained God’s plan-much like we sustain God’s choice for prophet. We did not get to “vote”, it was not an election. Satan was not cast out of heaven because his alternative plan wasn’t chosen or popular-he was cast out of heaven because of his behavior AFTER his plan was rejected.

    I don’t see where Omoplata suggested that God’s morality exists because of His personal preferences, but I may have missed it. By definition, morality is conformity to a standard of right behavior. Doctrinally, before a being can become a God, that being must conform to an eternally existing standard of right, correct, just, perfect behavior. Perfected beings are without sin, and scripture clearly state that both God the Father and Jesus Christ are perfect-which from the Greek means “whole, complete, fully developed”.

    Therefore the idea that God can or has “sinned” by flooding the earth (or any other scriptural event) creates a paradox wherein He was never a God at all.

    On top of that, scripture teaches us that every “creation” existed spiritually before it existed physically, and that there were “moral difficulties” in the premortal realm prior to our physical/mortal existence. They are also clear that a God can view the past, present and future all at once, so the idea that the flood was some kind of spontaneous act committed in a fit of unrighteous anger or that it resulted in something unplanned for is nothing more than a personal opinion, and one NOT based on scripture.

    Of course, without any scriptural evidence that the purpose of God’s word is to entertain and delight the human audience, I think that reading and interpreting scripture using the human theory of morality that provides the “best plot” formation or constitutes a “better, more instructive story” might just be a exercise in futility.

  54. omoplata says:

    52 – I apologize if I came off as belligerent, or in true politician sense, if people misconstrued my statements ;-) I agree wholeheartedly in co-existing with differing, independent viewpoints and if I present my opinion somewhat forcefully, its not that I want to squash different viewpoints, but rather I am excited by the discussion at hand. My only admitted irritation was the notion that my poor little opinion had no basis in scripture or less so than others.

    53 – I forgot to clarify this 33% business. I didn’t intend to imply the Plan of Salvation was a “won” via vote. I have no idea what sort of war the War in Heaven was. But I do wonder what would have happened if 66% sided with Satan or 99% or 100%. Could there still be a Christ based PoS if all 100% of Heaven chose Satan’s plan? As I said earlier, I believe God’s power comes from His exemplar righteousness that draws other beings of light (us) to Him. In the end, dare I submit its a matter of raw numbers? Those that are with God are greater than they that follow Satan. Those who are good outnumber those who are evil…

  55. JNS (#29),

    Our exchange has been informative and useful for me, I appreciate you taking the time.

    You mentioned the ambiguous language “heavens opened” and “know God” along with the reference to “many apostates” who apparently fit Joseph Smith’s definition, then you said this:

    In effect, what I think happens is that people see these texts, which are compatible with an uncomfortably wide range of possibilities, and quickly proceed to interpret them in the narrowest and most reassuring plausible sense.

    This is a valid interpretation of the situation and I have a much better idea of your position at this point. I see where you are coming from. When I look at the same language (in KFD) I draw a slightly different conclusion about how broad a reasonable interpretation is. Let me give you the reasons and I’m interested in where you’d disagree.

    1. The phrase “heavens opened” (and some direct variants) seem to be used in scriptures and Smithian language in a far more restricted way than what the words themselves require without context. You (and other JS experts here) might disagree, I’d be interested). It seems from my perusal of the scriptures on this that it is specifically used in cases of open vision, notably Jesus’ baptism, Nephi’s vision, Stephen’s vision of the Son on the right hand of the Father, 3 Ne 17 when the people see the angles descending, D&C 110 and the conferral of priesthood keys, and D&C 107:19 about communing with the church of the Firstborn and the presence of the Father. I don’t see a similar set of scriptures which use the term loosely, it seems to be fairly restricted in its usage. JS seems to me to follow this pattern, using the phrase to refer to something on par with an open vision rather than something like a burning in the bosom. I think this helps to argue substantively for the “ad hoc” interpretation and provide bounds for the statement.

    2. The fact that he says “many apostates” fit the definition is very interesting and as you rightly point out, leaves the door open to various interpretations. It might be argued that the “many” part indicates that run-of-the-mill spiritual witness makes one eligible as a son of perdition. The problem with this conclusion, I think, is that nothing else in Joseph’s behavior supports the idea that he thought apostates were beyond redemption. This is true even for apostates who experienced open visions with him. I don’t know of a single instance in which someone tried to repent and reconcile with JS that he turned them away or cited the unforgivability of the unpardonable sin to deny someone repentance.

    Thus, when I read the quote in #22 from the KFD, it seems to me that Joseph’s comment of the “many apostates” is simply meant to illustrate that you can have the heavens opened and then fight against God. As I have thought through your argument, I have been reminded that Joseph’s rhetoric about unpardonable sins is very confusing, partly because it does not appear to me that he actually felt anyone was past redemption if they would repent. At least his actions suggest this strongly to me.

  56. avisitor says:

    Jacob,

    I’ve been digging through my resources today too (always the result of a good discussion) and found some things that seem to echo your thoughts.

    It appears that a crucial part of becoming a “son” of Perdition is the actual choice to follow Satan. Cain didn’t just kill his brother, he made a covenant with Satan and chose him as his master. Just as those who choose to serve God become “sons of God”, those who choose to serve Satan become “sons of Perdition”.

    This of course involves more than just losing one’s faith or testimony. It involves a fully accountable decision to engage in Satan’s cause and fight against the kingdom of God. Those of the 1/3 in heaven obviously knew God the Father and were familiar with Jehovah whether they had gained a “testimony” that He would/could actually redeem them in the future or not. The “sin” that got them banished from heaven then was that they made a conscious choice to fight against God and Christ and the Plan of Salvation.

    I also found several interpretations among LDS writers/scholars/brethren etc. that suggest that in order to become a “son of perdition”-one must first hold the Priesthood. Now I’m NOT saying I agree with that, or that it is doctrinal, but if there is some truth in it, it brings up several interesting thoughts…

    Is this why we never hear or use the phrase “daughters of perdition” or “sons AND daughters of perdition” as opposed to “sons AND daughters of God”?

    If it’s true, and the 1/3 were all male-priesthood holding spirits, it shines a new light on several controversial LDS issues:
    *the necessity for “plural marriage” post-mortally
    *the suggestion that females are inherently more “spiritually” inclined or sensitive to the spirit here (because they were there)
    *withholding the Priesthood from some during mortality might actually have been a blessing that protected those born under certain circumstances from sinning to the point of no return during mortality. Think about this one…

    Take Cain, a Priesthood holder, sinning to the point of becoming a “son of perdition” which involves not only losing certain blessings during mortality, but also losing ALL eternal blessings, being shut out of the presence (and glory and love and influence) of God forever. A wise and loving eternal Father who knew that Cain’s “posterity” would spend mortality under the influence of evil and unholy traditions- made sure that they literally could not sin to the point of no return (ie by holding the Priesthood and then succumbing to their less than favorable environment) while still be given a chance post-mortally to repent and lay claim to some, if not all, of the blessings and glory of the Father. The Atonement would still cover them-whereas it does not cover those who are “perdition”.

    Just some thoughts…

  57. #56 – I have no authority on this blog, but strictly as an individual member I think we owe it to our brothers and sisters who were denied the Priesthood in this dispensation to honor the requests of our current prophets and apostles to not perpetuate the justifications for the ban that were speculated in order to try to explain it.

    To suggest that God kept the Priesthood from His children who were born black in this dispensation as a “blessing” is one of the most abhorrent justifications ever uttered, and we should do all within our power to eradicate that nonsense from among us. If my individual request is not sufficient, then please take the words of multiple modern apostles.

    Please read the thread from Mormon Matters linked below, especially starting in comment #50 and ending in comment #56 – with Elder Holland’s words in comments #50 and #55 being the most directly relevant to my comment here:

    http://mormonmatters.org/2009/02/17/more-unbridled-speculation-the-priesthood-ban/

    I bolded the most blunt parts.

  58. J. Nelson-Seawright says:

    avisitor #53, when you say, “By definition, morality is conformity to a standard of right behavior,” I think that’s fine. The question is what the standard is. In the position that omoplata has developed, the standard of right behavior is exactly whatever God says. That is, morality is determined by God’s instructions, and not by any independent standard. So when omoplata subsequently argues that God’s power derives from His morality, omoplata is proposing something logically meaningless. God’s morality is a null point if morality is determined by God’s instructions and not an independent standard; God is moral by definition under omoplata’s views and would be so even if he engaged in all manner of (what we would call) horrible acts, like rape, murder, genocide, deception, etc.

    Jacob, regarding the “heavens opened” language, we run here into an interpretive muddle. The examples you offer are ones that you presume to involve an open vision in a sense that are in kind unlike the spiritual experiences of most Mormons. But actually this isn’t clear. We often assume from the vivid language of our written descriptions that this is so, but it’s hard to know. Scraps of language and in some instances other descriptions make this unclear. It might be right that this means an exceptional and uncommon form of vision — but it also might not be right. One can’t really be sure; no definitions are offered, and we don’t even have a technical language that usefully distinguishes among kinds of spiritual experiences. (Especially in the contemporary church in which “burnings in the bosom” are sometimes described by our leadership as the true and highest form of revelation.) Visions which are opened to the “mind’s eye” may or may not be different in kind from spiritual experiences that contemporary Mormons have learned to describe in very different language, such as ideas flowing to the mind in the company of a burning bosom.

    On point #2, I agree that Joseph Smith was often inconsistent in both his words and his behaviors. Let me note that, if we think he might not have been especially careful in his choice of wording in this passage, then its ability to bound exceptions to universalism disappears entirely.

  59. avisitor says:

    Ray-
    It is obvious that this issue is a sensitive one for you, and that’s perfectly understandable. But to be fair, I might suggest that your feelings about it may have affected how you viewed what I posted.

    At no point did I even mention skin color-and I said that withholding it from “some” “might” have been a blessing. How exactly was I perpetuating any justifications for the Priesthood ban “in this dispensation” when I specifically mentioned Cain’s descendants? Irregardless of whether or not premortality has anything to do with anything in mortality, it is an indisputable fact that due to God’s command, Cain’s (immediate and for several generations) posterity were born into traditions devoid of the Holy Ghost and/or Priesthood authority. There are also countless humans of every color that have existed under the same circumstances. I can only imagine that if such events were completely and utterly unfair to them, that Heavenly Father would do all he could to protect them by making sure that it was impossible for them to lose even one, single blessing available to those who were born into “Priesthood” families. THAT was my ONLY point.

    But let me make one more. God told Joseph Smith that all of the horrific trials that he endured-no matter where they came from,be it other human beings or even the elements themselves-would “work together for his good”. I believe that this principle is true and applies to all of God’s children. We have no perfect knowledge for why certain things happen, or why God allows certain things to happen. But this we do know, or can know: God does not allow another human being, much less Himself, to deprive us irrevocably and eternally of even one blessing we have earned or deserve. We might be deprived of something for a time, but at some point it will be restored along with any “interest” on it we missed by not having it sooner.

    If ANYTHING, those members of the Church who were denied the Priesthood after the restoration and before 1978 and STILL chose to join the Church or remained faithful to it even though they could not participate in all of it’s ordinances and blessings, were examples of truly uncommon humility and discipleship and I have no doubt they will be blessed beyond comprehension for having that kind of faith. To love the Lord and His gospel so much that you are willing to accept whatever is granted just to be included in His Church-how many Saints today-of ANY color are that humble? That faithful?

    Seen from that vantage point, it is not some fantastical hypothesis to put forth the idea that because God knew how pure these particular hearts were, and because He knew they were not permanently losing any blessing (they were only delayed) He decided to allow them to exhibit a mighty example of faith and humility because He knew that it could prompt His other children to emulate it, and thus become more righteous themselves. I do not think it’s “abhorrent” at ALL for God withhold just for a while if doing so grants TWO (or more) blessings where He might have granted only one. I think it’s BRILLIANT. And for all we know, these sacred brothers and sisters were chosen and ordained to that very purpose!

    Trials are painful, but we are told they cannot be so painful as to destroy us. They are what refine us, humble us, allow us to be recreated in the image of the Savior. We WANTED mortality-no matter what the cost would be because we understood that there is only one way to become like our Father-and that is by experiencing the purifying fires of adversity.

    Some people think it is compassionate and benevolent to rail against the pain and anguish and torment that exists here on earth. Some people seek to obliterate every trial, all suffering, anything that seen through mortal eyes seems unfair or unjust. I understand that desire-it hurts to see others hurt. We have an inborn sense of justice and we want the scales of justice balanced NOW! But that isn’t what we agreed to…

    We have forgotten how badly we wanted it, or what we agreed to endure to obtain something better, but God hasn’t forgotten. I am eternally grateful that someone with perfect knowledge and perfect wisdom and perfect timing holds it all in the palm of His hands. Why? Because I know with every fiber of my being that because He is who He is, that when the day comes that we do remember, not one of us will have cause to look into His eyes and ask “Why didn’t you let me finish? Why did you stop this trial or that trial when I was so close to obtaining….? I wanted more than anything I’ve ever wanted to become just like YOU, and you promised me that no matter how much I cried, or hurt or screamed during mortality, that you would make sure I endured exactly as much as I needed to to reach my goal. And now it’s too late…”

  60. On “heavens opened” it seems your claim of uncertainty relies pretty heavily on an exegetical standard which precludes, per se, setting the kind of bounds you want. Of course we can always dig in our heels and challenge the ability of language itself to communicate ideas meaningfully if we want to, but at some point it seems this strategy puts us in an interpretive framework inappropriate for the kind of analysis we are after. Even if Cook tried to lock down the boundaries of salvation in legalese, there would always be lawyers (right here at BCC even) who could point out ambiguities in the language.

    I am not simply presuming those scriptures describe something unlike the common experience, they explicitly report certain kinds of visual and physical manifestations which most people say they have not had. When they say things like “I looked and I saw” or they involve resurrected being physically laying on hands to confer priesthood, it seems fairly clear. I don’t understand the standard under which you say we can’t tell if this is different than the common experience. (I can think of lots of possible standards, but I don’t know which you are using.)

    As to the contemporary rhetoric of the burning in the bosom being the highest form of revelation, I think that is not relevant to the interpretation of statements by Joseph Smith (who clearly disagreed with that rhetoric).

  61. avisitor,

    I do not believe that the Church officially teaches that descendents of Cain or Ham were denied priesthood and temple blessings until 1978 (the “curse of Cain” or “curse of Ham”). There is little evidence that Joseph taught that the priesthood should be withheld based on race/lineage, and a fair amount of evidence that the practice began under Brigham Young.

    While there are passages in the Pearl of Great Price that could be read consistently with the theory that there was such a “curse”, the passages are not unambiguous, and do not require a conclusion that all descendents of Cain or Ham were “black” or forbidden to hold the priesthood or receive temple blessings. Moreover, there is not evidence from any other source, of which I am aware, that there ever was such a practice of denying priesthood and temple blessings to descendants of Cain/Ham in any of the dispensations before the Restoration.

    It is true that many of the Brethren taught that there was such a practice before the Restoration, but, as far as I know, that is not the official teaching of the Church. FWIW, I did a search for “curse of Cain” and “curse of Ham” on lds.org, and also searches with respect to Cain and priesthood, and did not find any references.

    The Church’s official website summary with respect to Priesthood Before 1978 makes no mention of Cain or Ham, but simply refers to a denial of priesthood and temple blessings to those of black African descent. See Priesthood Before 1978 under Gospel Topics.

  62. Jacob J., I think the problem here is that, for many of the accounts where people talk about looking, seeing, etc., we have secondary, less-used sources in which the description sounds different, less visual, more conceptual, etc. In other words, as a historical matter, it’s simply hard to reconstruct the kind of experience which was being described with this sort of language. An example, which Geoff J. and I talked about a few years back, is the sequence of Angel Moroni visions — for which there is some historical reason to think that the vision didn’t involve physical seeing but rather something else (spiritual seeing, conceptual seeing, understanding expressed as seeing?). This doesn’t make the visions less significant, but it substantially problematizes an attempt to make them different in kind from mainstream contemporary Mormon spiritual experiences. Similar arguments can quite plausibly be made for many of the other early vision experiences, and by extension become possible for scriptural accounts for which we lack secondary historical data.

    I’d note that this is a sort of second-order or indirect issue — we’re debating the meaning of visions in conjunction with a non-canonized statement possibly but not certainly intended as a clarification of the “perdition” standard. If I raise questions here and raise the possibility that historical sources use language in ways other than those which seem most obvious to us after a couple hundred years of rereading those sources, it’s certainly far from a direct and simple assumption that the boundaries of our universalism can’t be fixed.

  63. “If ANYTHING, those members of the Church who were denied the Priesthood after the restoration and before 1978 and STILL chose to join the Church or remained faithful to it even though they could not participate in all of it’s ordinances and blessings, were examples of truly uncommon humility and discipleship and I have no doubt they will be blessed beyond comprehension for having that kind of faith. To love the Lord and His gospel so much that you are willing to accept whatever is granted just to be included in His Church-how many Saints today-of ANY color are that humble? That faithful?”

    avisitor, I agree with that paragraph 100%. What I find abhorrent are the attempts to justify why they had to go through that – when our current apostles ask that we refrain from such speculation. The quotes I linked are blunt and strong and clear: We are to stop trying to justify the ban and do all within our power to not perpetuate any of the previous justifications that were used prior to 1978. That is our apostolic and prophetic counsel today, and I believe it is a sacred responsibility.

    I’m sorry, but focusing on the few (the VERY few) who accepted the Restored Gospel and endured so many racist justifications (that are nowhere close to indisputable fact and are rejected by our current apostles) that drove so many others (so VERY many others) away – and saying those who were driven away by the justifications and restricted because of the ban had a greater chance of becoming Sons of Perdition because their culture and traditions were so wicked . . . makes me shudder to the core of my soul.

    I’m sorry, but that sounds far too much like a slave owner saying, “I beat you and enslave you because I love you and esteem you more highly than I do my fellow slave owners – because I know you would wallow in sin and degradation if you were as free as I am.” Can’t you see how racist and condescending and abhorrent that is?

    I’m not saying you are virulently racist. I’m saying that particular justification is abhorrent and racist. Let’s drop this, because I really don’t want to encourage such statements to be repeated in a forum where others might think it’s what the Church actually teaches. It’s not, and I hope I never hear it again – although I have no real faith in that hope.

  64. avisitor says:

    J.-

    I shouldn’t speak for Oloplata, and yet here i am.:) Maybe he/she is saying something different than what I took from it, or maybe you like to split hairs or your object here is to perfect argumentative skills…I have no idea.

    In any case, I believe that to become a God at all, one has to become, conform, agree to, and integrate a universally pure and supreme “morality” if you will. That morality comprehends and circumscribes what is “wrong” and what is “right” (or good and evil, or growth oriented or destruction oriented) at all times, and in all things, and in all places if you will.

    Did God “invent” that standard? I have no idea, but my best guess would be no. But either way, it is only by adhering to that standard that He become a God and only by continual practice of it that He remains one. Should He choose another standard, He would cease to be a God, and everything He created by His former power and dominion would cease to exist. Thus, as I believe Omoplata was trying to illustrate, as long as we continue to exist, God is adhering to the eternal standard of Godhood-and thus in a sense really IS “morally right” by definition. If God became immoral He would become something other than a God.

    “God is moral by definition under omoplata’s views and would be so even if he engaged in all manner of (what we would call) horrible acts, like rape, murder, genocide, deception, etc.”

    You obviously already know what the problem with this statement is because you included the distinction that “rape, murder, genocide, deception etc” are acts that “we would call horrible”. But something that is horrible by definition is not necessarily evil or wrong. Root canals are horrible, childbirth is horrible. It is normal for humans to react with fear, dread, dismay, repulsion or anger to things that they view as unpleasant or undesirable, but keep in mind these same humans can also react with joy and delight to something that really is evil and wrong.

  65. An example, which Geoff J. and I talked about a few years back, is the sequence of Angel Moroni visions

    Ah, yes — the good ol’ days when you were RoastedTomatoes still. I suspect you were referring to this conversation where you were in part refereeing a friendly debate between me and Jeff G. Good times.

  66. avisitor, so, there are real problems here (I think these are among the most important issues in contemporary Mormon thought). If we think that God could order rape and then it would be okay, we’ve entered a realm that I think is morally and ethically repugnant. We’ve become the supreme moral relativists, and I can’t stomach it. It seems the definition of evil, and I would call such a God the very devil.

    If, by contrast, such an order would make God cease to be God, because of some moral standard that God must adhere to in order to retain his identity, then morality is not defined by God but rather defines and delimits Him.

    These issues are important in large part because of the moral nightmares that can ensue when people (a) adopt the position that anything God orders is right by definition, and (b) come to believe that God has ordered some terrifically evil act. This is not a fantasy scenario.

  67. avisitor says:

    David H.

    “I do not believe that the Church officially teaches that descendents of Cain or Ham were denied priesthood and temple blessings until 1978 (the “curse of Cain” or “curse of Ham”).”

    I don’t believe they do either, and I never said that they did. I also did not mention skin color or tie the descendants of Cain to modern day Africans.

    Ray-
    I am greatly concerned that you so readily compared what I was attempting to say about God to a slave owner beating his slaves. It is not the Spirit of God that urges us to take offense when none was intended or to make a man an offender for a word.

    “We are to stop trying to justify the ban and do all within our power to not perpetuate any of the previous justifications that were used prior to 1978. That is our apostolic and prophetic counsel today, and I believe it is a sacred responsibility.”

    The official Church stance, and thus our “apostolic and prophetic counsel today” is that “We don’t know why the ban existed”. Yet as I followed your words across the internet, you repeatedly express your belief that the ban was man-made-established as well as what you think motivated it. In the same comments from the prophets and apostles you link to above, they ALSO express that while they do not know why the ban existed, they DO believe that it was a command from God. Is it not also then our sacred responsibility to follow them in that as well?

    These same men have also counseled that harboring hard feelings or having an unforgiving heart puts us in a spiritually precarious position and causes the withdrawal of the Spirit. They continually teach that we have a sacred duty to forgive all men for their trespasses (whether those who trespass repent or ask for our forgiveness or not) if we want forgiveness ourselves.

    I am not saying that you are virulently unforgiving. I am saying that your responses often sound bitter and grudge bearing.

  68. “I am saying that your responses often sound bitter and grudge bearing.”

    You are wrong. I have no bitterness about the ban, and I hold no grudges toward those who instituted or upheld it.

    I also have said I believe the ban was inevitable, and I have said I support every apostle and prophet who supported the ban as called and ordained of God. I have said that over and over again. I have never once said they did anything for which they need to be forgiven. Not once.

    This is exactly what you said, word-for-word:

    “A wise and loving eternal Father who knew that Cain’s “posterity” would spend mortality under the influence of evil and unholy traditions- made sure that they literally could not sin to the point of no return (ie by holding the Priesthood and then succumbing to their less than favorable environment)”

    In other words, you are advancing the possibility (and seeming to support it, based on the overall context of your comment) that God withheld the Priesthood from “Cain’s posterity as an act of love – that they would be raised with “evil and unholy traditions” – and that He restricted their agency by not allowing them to commit the unpardonable sin. In a very real way, you are saying he intentionally kept them from the highest high of mortality to save them from the lowest low of eternity – again, taking away their collective agency out of love. Again, you claim this because of their “evil and unholy traditions” that inevitable would corrupt some of them and turn them into Sons of Perdition.

    Can you see that you just labeled all of Cain’s descendants as having been kept from the Priesthood of God (HIGHLY debatable, both historically and scripturally), that you just associated all people with black skin as descended from Cain (HIGHLY debatable, both historically and scripturally), that you just labeled the historical culture of black people as “evil and unholy” (and as MORE evil and unholy than any other culture, since no other culture was restricted from holding the Priesthood in our time), etc? Can you see the implication that, according to this theory, black people are weaker spiritually than anyone else, since others could handle having the Priesthood and not become Sons of Perdition? I’m asking if you understand the implications of that theory – that he explicitly sent millions of his children to earth and restricted them from full growth because he deemed one culture and one line of tradition as more “evil and unholy” than all others.

    If I have misread what you meant in your original comment, I apologize – sincerely. I mean that. If I misunderstood what you were trying to say, I am sorry. I’m simply having a hard time seeing how the exact words I’ve quoted from your comment can be taken as anything but a racist theory.

    If I have explained your words as you intended them, let’s let it die a natural death, as I said previously. I have no desire to go the rounds, if that is the case. If, however, I have misunderstood what you meant to say, please clarify for me. I would love to come to see what you actually meant, if it is different than what I took from the words above.

  69. Mark A. Clifford says:

    Hey! This is lively.
    In my view, all that is required to create a moral system is two persons. In the relationship between them, all that is necessary for moral order to come into being is per force present. One need not hypothesize any self-existing principles, or “justice-like” entities. All that is required is being-in-relationship (“God seeing that He was in the midst of spirits and glory…”). This is well worn territory a la Martin Buber. What is right is what reverences the Other.
    Mormonism posits that a god who could do evil is a god who could cease to be god. That is an astonishing teaching from an astonishing theologin. And, his teaching does indeed open God up to principles exterior to Himself. That is part of the LDS distinctive: other beings do exist on “the same principles” as God, other co-equal, ontologically necessary selves. And when more than one self exists, all that is needed to create a moral universe instantly obtains. There is not need to hypothesize “principles prior to God” to which God must attend, per se. There are only Others to whom God must attend. His power, then, may consist in this perfect attention to the Other.
    I am not sure how else to reconcile these poles in LDS thought, the issue of “God ceasing to be God” as Alma has it, and “whatever God commands is right,” as JS has it in his letter to Sarah Pratt. I can put it together only if what is right, and what is always right, is the Good that God knows will accrue if a particular course is followed. Not as a matter of principle, or as a matter of his fiat, but as a matter of his guiding each actual occasion to the best possible outcome. That is love, and that is power, I think.

  70. avisitor says:

    J.

    I agree that these are important and that they affect, well literally, everything. BUT, I also think that due to the circumstances we find ourselves in currently (God and His nature existing in a realm outside of our own) it is not possible to fully comprehend or incorporate them.

    As far as I’ve thought things out, I would say that God is allowed to define the morality that He expects His children to adhere to at any given point as long as doing so falls within the morality He has chosen to be defined and delimited by.

    The biggest problem I think stems from something I said earlier-that as human beings we naturally resist unpleasant things-BUT in certain circumstances, sometimes the “right” thing involves unpleasant things. The root canal and child birth analogies for example. No rational, moral person WANTS/desires/longs for someone to dig around in the nerve endings in their mouths with sharp, steel instruments-but a rational, moral person will submit to that experience in order to stop something bad from getting worse and causing further damage.

    Now, in that situation, no rational, moral person would accuse an authorized dentist who performs a root canal for the future benefit of a patient as being evil or acting with “evil” intent. To take it even further, we might even consider ourselves lucky that there are people who can stomach the blood and gore and pain (not to mention being hated by most people) so well that they make it their life’s work-and keep hundreds of people from experiencing something even worse. I certainly couldn’t do it.

    So it is obvious that:
    *sometimes the “right” or correct thing to do involves pain and suffering
    *a being outside of ourselves must inflict pain and suffering in order to bring about a greater good- without the actions of that person being “evil”.

    That said-let’s take a Biblical event that the average human being understandably views as horrible, unpleasant, and in many cases even “evil”-the Great Flood. Is such a concept horrible? Yes. Do we imagine that it was painful and disturbing? Of course! But was it “evil”????

    I’ll let you provide a definition of “evil” that you agree with before we go any further.

  71. Mark Clifford, I agree that there are conflicting poles in the thought you discuss. Let me briefly suggest that your comments really don’t seem to change the dialogue, though. If “reverencing the Other” defines the good, then that’s your foundational principle for morality. That principle is, by your account, exterior to God and a reason why God is God. Thus, in the logical sense in which I’ve used the word, the principle is prior to God (perhaps not chronologically, but that’s not the point at issue here). So as far as that goes, you’ve adopted a foundationalist and not purely relativist moral stance, which puts you on one side of the established dialogue here and doesn’t really alter its contours. I agree that moral foundationalism squares poorly with the idea that anything God says is right by fiat.

    avisitor, if morality is purely a matter of free choice by God, then it’s really no different from a dress code, traffic rules, a programming language, or any other arbitrary social coordination system. Morality loses its force, because it becomes hard to know on what basis to object to immoral acts.

    Your thoughts regarding unpleasantness seem hard to connect with the discussion. Lots of morally good things, and lots of morally bad things, are unpleasant. Fine.

    I also don’t understand why I might be required to offer an affirmative definition of “evil” to continue the conversation. My burden here is to reject the purely relativist account of morality. Let me sketch my strategy. I offer a hypothetical situation in which God orders an act that inflicts immense harm on an innocent for no reason and with no aim in sight other than the infliction of that harm. I then challenge you to explain to me the basis, given your theory of morality, for deciding that such a situation involves an evil instruction from God. If you cannot, I challenge your theory as not being a theory of morality at all but rather a denial that there is such a thing.

    Suppose, for instance, that God orders you to kidnap and torture a child to death. A relativist might reply that this horrifying instruction was given to serve some moral purpose, i.e., to prevent some greater evil. But it’s my hypothetical. Suppose that there is no higher purpose.

    With this terrifying counterfactual scenario in hand, let me ask the following questions. Is it right to obey this command simply because God said so? If so, what possible meaning could the word “right” have?

  72. J,

    Morality loses its force, because it becomes hard to know on what basis to object to immoral acts.

    I don’t follow this logic. My impression is that God telling someone to do something conforms to a morality we don’t fully comprehend.

    …unpleasantness seem hard to connect with the discussion.

    Makes sense to me. It makes the point that our analysis of morality too often reflects an arrogance. We tend to believe that we can understand based on our limited knowledge.

    Is it right to obey this command simply because God said so?

    Yes. It is a very real obligation. I can’t tell you how much I wish that weren’t so — but it is.

    I would add that, in addition, I haven’t met anyone who has a handle on a real definition of “willful rebellion”.

    You know, there are long discussions about how “God’s love” is different from the many common definitions of love. Yet, somehow, we seem to have trouble realizing how different “God’s morality” or “evil” are from our limited understanding.

  73. Tony, I’ve got to call you out here. You just said, in your last comment, that under the right circumstances torturing a child to death simply for the sake of torturing the child could be morally right. Think about that for a while. Just think about that. Something is wrong in a worldview that leads to such a conclusion.

    The problem is that, if morality is simply whatever God commands, then “morality” is really just another word for allegiance. Furthermore, saying that God is good under this view is really just like saying “The Utah Jazz are Number 1!!!!” It becomes a cheer for the home team; it loses all content. After all, God isn’t good, in this view, because He wants the best for other people, or because He holds to a universal principle, or because He acts according to proper procedure, or for any other reason. God is just good because God is God; anything God does is good by definition. If God were to do exactly what Satan does, and Satan to do what God does, then we would be obligated to mirror-image our concept of morality and call good evil and vice versa. Isn’t that a problem?

    I have no objection to the idea that God has a higher and more perfect understanding of morality than we do. I have no objection to the idea that, as a result, He might sometimes order us to do things that seem immoral from our limited perspective. (As a matter of practical ethics, I’d suggest that the Nephi/Laban story teaches us that we shouldn’t proceed until we have comprehensible moral reasons, nonetheless.) I do absolutely object to a view of morality in which the only content of the word is “whatever God says.”

  74. Let me also quickly point out that the divine command theory of morality that omoplata, avisitor, and TonyD are advocating is often justified in Mormon thought with reference to what I think is a misreading of a letter that Joseph Smith wrote to Nancy Rigdon on April 11, 1842. The letter was written with the motive of persuading Rigdon to accept the principle of plural marriage. The key sentence, frequently quoted in this context, is as follows:

    “Whatever God requires is right, no matter what it is, although we may not see the reason thereof till long after the events transpire.”

    The first part of this sentence seems to suggest that God’s commands are by definition morally good. However, I’d point out that the second part of the sentence makes this seem incorrect. If morality is determined by God’s command, then the reason why God’s commands are right is simply that they are God’s commands. The idea that there might be reasons that we could discover long after the events transpire requires that morality have independent content of some kind. This becomes clear throughout the letter in question, which consistently espouses the view that God’s commands are moral because they are wise, comprehend the full circumstances of each situation, and are designed to produce the greatest happiness in the greatest number of people. Note that the last clause contains a theory of morality other than the divine command theory; morality is that which produces the greatest long-term happiness in the largest number of people — this is something like a utilitarian theory of morality. In the same letter, Joseph Smith makes this component of his understanding of morality pretty clear:

    “He [God] never will institute an ordinance or give a commandment to His people that is not calculated in its nature to promote that happiness which He has designed, and which will not end in the greatest amount of good and glory to those who become the recipients of his law and ordinances.”

    All of this suggests another way of reading the statement that whatever God requires is right. Smith probably used these words to express an epistemological claim: whatever God requires is right because God’s requirements always correspond to what a person with full knowledge and wisdom would regard as the surest path to achieving the highest happiness for the largest possible number of people.

    It seems, in context of the letter as a whole, that the reading which regards God’s command as making an act moral is incorrect. God’s commands are always moral because God perfectly adheres to a standard of morality that can be defined independently of His commands, not because His commands create their own morality.

  75. To agree with JNS, directly preceeding the above quote, Smith states:

    This is the principle on which the government of heaven is conducted–by revelation adapted to the circumstances in which the children of the kingdom are placed

    God adapts his revelation to our circumstances, not vice versa.

  76. omoplata says:

    JDS – “It seems, in context of the letter as a whole, that the reading which regards God’s command as making an act moral is incorrect. God’s commands are always moral because God perfectly adheres to a standard of morality that can be defined independently of His commands, not because His commands create their own morality.”

    This is what I’ve been trying to say all along. To become God means to adhere perfectly to morality. It is the very definition of being God and the only way to attain it. Our entire mortals lives are a pursuit to this goal – moral perfection. God cannot be God if He strays in the slightest from that moral code. And because He adheres to morality perfectly, for all intents and purposes, they are one and the same. The distinction only lies on paper, in theory, but in reality, practically, there is no distinction.

    I think where our difference in opinion occurs is *who* gets to define that moral standard. I claim that *we* humans, mortals cannot. I just don’t think we can judge God to have strayed from that moral code based only on the act of His taking a human life, innocent or otherwise. A moral standard defined by humans is just as arbitrary and varied. There are agnostics and atheists who question or deny the existence of God because a God that *allows* evil is tantamount to committing evil. Who is to say their standard of morality is any worse or better than yours or mine?

  77. Eveningsun says:

    #67 — The official Church stance…is that “We don’t know why the ban existed.” Is it permissible here to say that, while I too do not know with absolute certainty why the ban existed, I have a pretty darn good idea–namely, that certain passages in the Pearl of Great Price are exactly what they look like: an all-too-human adaptation of the so-called “Hamitic theory” of racial origins.

    I agree that harboring hard feelings or having an unforgiving heart puts us in a spiritually precarious position and that we have a sacred duty to forgive all men for their trespasses. But the question remains, What are we forgiving these men for? IMHO, we’re forgiving JS for falling for that racist Hamitic claptrap in the first place, we’re forgiving BY for implementing the racist claptrap as he did, and we’re forgiving their successors for being so tardy in rejecting the racist claptrap.

    To repeat, it’s not just a question of forgiving people but of being clear about what we are forgiving people for.

    As for the simmering question of God’s relation to morality, I’m with JN-S. I would add only that this theological problem is hardly unique to LDS theology. It’s a problem for any faith rooted in the Old Testament.

  78. omoplata says:

    One additional thought: When I refer to God, I am referring to God the Title, the Position. There is a Being that occupies that station. And while *that* distinction itself is on paper and in all practice, the one and the same, I think perhaps some confusion on this issue can be cleared up as well.

    The “office” of God requires perfect moral adherence for that office to be maintained and held.

  79. J,

    You just said, in your last comment, that under the right circumstances torturing a child to death simply for the sake of torturing the child could be morally right.

    Yes. That is what I’m saying.
    God gets to decide such things, I don’t. If God tells me it conforms to a morality, then it does. If he tells me it does not conform to any morality, then it does not.

    Look, I’m not saying I like this situation. And I’m not saying that anyone reading this should understand it. All I can say is that “transcendence” is very real. This is not an abstract conversation.

  80. TonyD, I don’t know if you like the situation or not. I am going to call your views dangerous and really not a good reading of Mormon theology. Whatever you do, don’t act on this idea, okay?

  81. Eveningsun says:

    #80 — TonyD, if God tells you to torture a child to death, how do you know you’re not being tested, as some say Abraham was tested at Sodom? If you’re being tested and you torture the child, then you flunk. If you disobey the command, you’re disobeying God, and, if it turns out God wasn’t testing you…you flunk. Seems like you’re in quite a jam! And the only way out is to know whether you’re being tested or not–which is to say you must know what God has in mind, which can be hard enough in any case but particularly hard when you know that there’s at least one example of God deliberately concealing his true intent (e.g., Abraham).

    I don’t know about you, but I’d like to think that the way I would get out of the jam is to stick fast to my own moral compass, just as Abraham did at Sodom. (And unlike what he came close to doing at Moriah.)

  82. #82 – The apparent inconsistency you point out in Abraham’s behavior – unquestioning in the commandment to kill his innocent son, yet questioning the decree of destroying Sodom tells me that Abraham understood God better than you or I, and that a zero-tolerance policy of death is insufficient.

    Believe it or not, I probably hold a similar moral view as yours and commandment or not, could not obey a commandment to torture a child or sacrifice my own son. My inability to obey such a commandment doesn’t make me bad or disobedient – it just makes me, for lack of a better word, immature. And because of that immaturity, God would never command me to sacrifice my children. He commands me in areas I have trouble enough with: home teaching, missionary work…

  83. Eveningsun says:

    Wow.

  84. Divine Command theory of ethics is utterly ridiculous in my opinion. I am always astonished when I see someone preach it.

  85. Honestly, from reading TonyD’s comments, it seems to me he is advocating the view that God knows things we do not rather than that whatever God commands is right, per se. In other words, he is making a statement about epistemology as opposed to meta-ethics. (As he said: “My impression is that God telling someone to do something conforms to a morality we don’t fully comprehend.” #72)

    There are some interesting questions raised at the intersection of these two ideas. I fully agree with JNS in #74, but if Joseph Smith is correct, then we may be commanded to do things that do not conform to our intuitions about what is right. How should we navigate such a possibility? Rather than investigating those issues, it seems like people are talking past each other. But yes, Divine Command theory is awful.

  86. Jacob J., would that I could agree with you. Yet in the child torture hypothetical I stipulated, which Tony accepted, it was part of the premise that there was no higher morality that we didn’t understand. Nonetheless, Tony affirmed the idea that torturing the child would be right. This seems to fit with divine command theory and few other approaches. That said, I agree that there are some inconsistencies.

    I also agree that the idea that God might sometimes know more than us and therefore issue commands that are in fact moral but strike us as immoral is a difficult issue. My feeling is that, in such a case, we are within our rights to request explanation before we act.

  87. omoplata, your inability to obey a command to torture a child or kill your own child certainly doesn’t make you bad. Nor yet immature. It makes you a moral actor. Don’t let’s lose, to borrow the phrase, our moral clarity here!

  88. Eveningsun #77, I agree that the divine command theory we’re dealing with here is not a distinctly Mormon issue. It is, as you say, a legacy of the Old Testament. In fact, I’d suggest that this viewpoint is distinctly less prevalent in the peculiarly Mormon scriptures than it is in the Bible…

  89. J,

    We tend to interpret God’s actions as caused by his attitude, character, morality, etc.

    It is conceivable that this is an example of “defensive attribution”. That is, we don’t see our own collective responsibility for an unjust situation which has no “moral” solution. Evil is real. And God is able to recognize those situations, and act in that context.

    Personally, I see a more integrated understanding of “good” and “evil” as a component of movement toward God. Forcing all situations to be “moral” would be a different movement.

    By the way, in spite of our disagreement on this topic, I’ve generally held a high regard for your posts. Really.

  90. Tony, I’m not sure I follow your last comment.

    I’m glad you like my posts, and I’m glad we can talk through this issue. Just because I’m scared by the theory you endorse regarding morality doesn’t mean I don’t want to talk — nor yet that I think I have nothing to learn from you.

    That said, regardless of the situation, there are some acts that can never be right. If we can’t agree to that, then something is wrong. If our religion is somehow the reason that we can’t agree to that, then I’m deeply troubled.

  91. J,

    Let me try another approach:

    Does every situation have a morally correct action? If evil is real, then one could argue that there are situations with only poor options.

    Wouldn’t it be growth to recognize that such situations exist? And wouldn’t it be desirable to become someone able to exercise judgment even in such situations?

    I would suggest that God is able to operate in an environment where evil exists, and may even try to help us in such situations.

    So, the requirement of compatibility with our “moral compass” or any attribution of characteristics to God would be a reflection of our own shortcomings, not his.

    Really, I feel that I am just arguing that humility in the presence of God is just common sense.

  92. TonyD,

    J gave a very specific scenario with one evil choice and one good choice. You stated that if God made the evil choice then it somehow wouldn’t be evil. As has been noted, you have vascillated between a fairly repugnant version of divine command theory of ethics and trying to change the parameters of JNS’s scenario. Rather that doing the latter why not stay on target and just deal with the scenario at hand? Pointing out that sometimes there are other hypothetical scenarios where all available choices are bad is simply changing the subject.

    To quote Y-wing fighter Gold Five: “Stay on target… Stay on target!”

  93. Geoff,

    I think you and I see evil quite differently. Evil and Good are often interchangeable, depending on judgment. (And sometimes they aren’t.)

  94. Evil and Good are often interchangeable, depending on judgment.

    I have no idea what this sentence means.

  95. Steve Evans says:

    Geoff, as David St. Hubbins reminds us, it’s such a fine line between clever and stupid.

  96. I don’t have the kind of relationship with God yet to make the kind of decisions being discussed here.

  97. I am sorry for my intrusion but this topic is something that has been bothering me for some time so please bear with me as I butt in.
    As I heard the talks given at conference, which were for the most part wonderful, I perceived a definite break from the past exclusionism of the church which has been an ongoing phenomenon for the past 10 years.
    As I was readong the blogs, the story of Lehi’s dream of the tree of life came to mind and the following questions insued.
    1. On the straight and narrow path were there multitudes or were the multitudes making their way through the filthy river and becoming part of the Great and Spacious Building?
    2. Why are we as a church reaching out across the river trying to convince those that mock us that we are one of them?
    3. Why is the church trying to get us to dump the name Mormon (Hinkley asked us several times to stop using Mormon) and yet trying to convince the world that we ARE Christian?
    I personally do not want to be accepted by the mainstream Christians, I do however, want to reach out to them as all of God’s children be they Christian, atheist, Muslim, Jew or just plain agnostic and explain to them how the true gospel of Jesus Christ can lead them to the tree of life. I don’t think we should use stories of “everyone is saved” and we are all going to heaven no matter what religion you believe. We need to tell the world that ONLY those who have faith in God, Jesus and his True Prophets are walking the path that leads to the tree of life. This is one of the reasons we baptize 100 and retain only 10. What profits a man to gain the world and loose his sole. We as a church are so concerned about being accepted by the world I fear we are in danger of loosing our sole. Why else would we change the temple ordinances in order to be more palatable by non-LDS? When I was a child I was told that one of the signs of the apostasy was changing the holy ordinances. I believe in the prophet and will follow him but only as long as he follows the Lord. Is it the Lord who wants us to become part of mainstream Christianity?
    Just the ramblings of an old man rooted in the past.

  98. We as a church are so concerned about being accepted by the world I fear we are in danger of loosing our sole.

    Perhaps so, but that is why God invented shoe cobblers.

  99. avisitor says:

    Ok…first J, there is a problem.

    This is exactly how your hypothetical was phrased in post #71

    “God orders an act that inflicts immense harm on an innocent for no reason and with no aim in sight other than the infliction of that harm.”

    The later in the same post you phrase it this way: “God orders you to kidnap and torture a child to death.”

    There are two very different scenarios here.

    One is the infliction of immense harm on an “innocent” without reason, and with no aim in sight other than inflicting harm. In this scenario the “innocent” could be anyone of any age, and it is indeterminate who or what God orders to do the harming.

    In the second scenario, God is ordering ME to kidnap and torture a child to death.

    So either you need to combine the two and restate your exact hypothetical, or pick which one you want me to respond to.

    Either way, I must ask this question. Are you saying that God knows with absolute knowledge that the person being harmed is completely innocent and orders the torture or harm or death simply because He wants that innocent person to endure torture, harm or death?

    OR are you saying that the person being ordered to inflict the torture, harm or death thinks, believes, assumes that the person is “innocent” and sees no reason or “aim in sight” for the act other than the infliction of those things in and of themselves?

    Without clarification, there are just too many variables to even formulate a coherent response.

  100. avisitor says:

    “I do absolutely object to a view of morality in which the only content of the word is “whatever God says.””

    What if the person who holds that view knows God so well and is so in tune with Him that they know that “whatever God says” is always going to be moral thing? Isn’t that the object of our existence? To become so intimately acquainted with God that we lose all desire to doubt or second-guess Him?

  101. avisitor says:

    J-
    “Let me also quickly point out that the divine command theory of morality that omoplata, avisitor, and TonyD are advocating is often justified in Mormon thought with reference to what I think is a misreading of a letter that Joseph Smith wrote to Nancy Rigdon on April 11, 1842.”

    Never heard the letter, read the letter, or have been exposed to the letter so it couldn’t possibly have any bearing on my “mormon” thoughts or justifications.

  102. avisitor says:

    Kerry,

    2. Why are we as a church reaching out across the river trying to convince those that mock us that we are one of them?

    What one person views as reaching out and trying to get those that mock us to think we are one of them is the exact same gesture/action one might exhibit as they cling tightly to the iron rod with one hand and attemp to pull someone out of the river or offer a hand of invitation to someone wandering in the mist. It might look one way but be something entirely different. Perspective.

    3. Why is the church trying to get us to dump the name Mormon (Hinkley asked us several times to stop using Mormon) and yet trying to convince the world that we ARE Christian?

    Well, maybe because the name “Mormons” was a derogatory nickname given to the restored Church by it’s enemies? Or perhaps because in today’s world the word “cult” hasn’t yet become politically correct and highly desirable? Since a very large number of non-members today STILL think we worship someone named “Mormon” or that our Church is founded on, or based upon the doctrines of someone named “Mormon” instead of on the teachings of Jesus Christ- why would anyone want to open their doors to our missionaries or accept an invitation to attend our meetings? Marketing.

    We are a restoration of the ORIGINAL Christian (Christ’s) Church, and the doctrines we espouse are the most pure Christian doctrines on earth. I couldn’t care less whether or not “mainstream” Christians accept us or loathe us, I DO however care very much about taking the name of Christ upon myself-which makes me a Christian by default. Branding.

    Unlike many “mainstream” Christians, we don’t believe that there is only one destination for those who are “saved” after the final judgment- the Kingdom of God known as heaven and one place for everyone else who is “not saved” or hell…we believe that with very few exceptions, everyone will be “saved” into various kingdoms and reserve the title of the kingdom of God for the highest of those-the celestial kingdom. This is why our doctrine makes a distinction between being “saved” and being “exalted”. Clarity.

    “Why else would we change the temple ordinances in order to be more palatable by non-LDS?”

    Since “non-LDS” people are not allowed to participate in temple ordinances, I highly doubt that the changes that took place had anything to do with them at all. AND, an auxiliary part of the ceremony was changed, not the actual ordinances themselves. If you need more reassurance, I suggest you re-read the Bible and note that historically God has made changes to various ceremonies whenever He sees fit to and at no time has it been viewed as a sign of apostasy.

    However, Geoff G. making fun of the way an old man spells the word “soul” could very well be a sign of his apostasy :-P

  103. I was also making fun of the way he misspelled “losing” if that helps… Come on — “loosing soles”? That’s too good to pass up.

    I actually suspect “Kerry” is just a troll posing as a Mormon anyway. He has a mild troll odor about him.

  104. Geoff,

    As to “evil and Good are often interchangeable, depending on judgment” I think of Joseph Smith saying “that which is wrong under one circumstance … is right under another.” Or, more importantly, simply knowing that I am not a judge of good and evil since I am not God. That means that every time I am exposed to a label of “good” or “evil” I must, of necessity, be open to being completely wrong.

  105. avisitor, the “two” hypotheticals have this relationship to each other. The first is the general family, and the second is the specific case. The one I’d like you to answer involves the order from God to you to torture and kill a specific innocent child. In this hypothetical, it is true, as you say, that “God knows with absolute knowledge that the person being harmed is completely innocent and orders the torture or harm or death simply because He wants that innocent person to endure torture, harm or death.”

    You also say, “What if the person who holds that view knows God so well and is so in tune with Him that they know that ‘whatever God says’ is always going to be moral thing? Isn’t that the object of our existence? To become so intimately acquainted with God that we lose all desire to doubt or second-guess Him?” This is a very different position. In this kind of discussion, you’re claiming that morality exists apart from God, that God’s orders could hypothetically be immoral, but that the individual in question has the knowledge that God’s orders never in fact will be immoral. I don’t object as strongly to this approach, although I nonetheless do see problems. This position is subject to the problem of induction: there is no way to find out that the probability of God doing something is zero. We can possibly find out that God has never done that thing, but we can’t logically conclude on that basis that He never will. We can have God tell us through the Spirit that He never will do that thing, but we can’t know that God wouldn’t lie about His own total commitment to morality. Evidence can certainly persuade us that God is almost totally reliable in this way, but not that He is totally reliable. This is why theologians have historically tried to arrive at such a claim by logic, but this path is much less available to Mormons for whom God is a person more than an embodiment of abstract principles.

    Tony D., please look at the discussion of that quote above. I’m pretty confident that you’ve misread it.

  106. J,

    I have no problem with your logic or your analysis. I wish you the best if the day comes that you actually meet God and get to try it out. :)

    Tony

  107. J. Nelson-Seawright says:

    Tony, okay. In the meanwhile, please bear in mind the following fact. Even if you think you’ve had a revelation from God telling you to do something seemingly immoral, the odds are that it’s not from God. This is the epistemological issue that sinks the whole thing.

  108. avisitor says:

    J-
    “In this hypothetical”…”God knows with absolute knowledge that the person being harmed is completely innocent and orders the torture or harm or death simply because He wants that innocent person to endure torture, harm or death.”

    Obviously then, you are not only putting forth a hypothetical situation, but a hypothetical God, and one who commands things that my God would never command. I could not, and would not obey the command of a false God.

    The God I believe in cannot be tempted with evil, nor does He tempt any man with evil. He cannot walk in crooked paths. It is impossible for Him to lie. And His every word is pure. If He were to do any of those things, He would cease to be a God, and all of His creations would end.

    In such a case, the moment “my” God desired to do something truly evil, or wicked-my God, myself, and the innocent child would all become nothing at all.

  109. Well avisitor, at least we now know you aren’t a divine command ethics guy/gal.

    However it appears you think God doesn’t have free will (so that is is not even possible for God to sin). And that last sentence proposes a really odd idea — that if God ever did sin he would not just cease to be God as Mormon scripture posits; rather he and everything in existence would somehow poof out of existence (?!). That is some seriously out-there theology amigo.

  110. avisitor says:

    Geoff,

    Every word of God is pure-Proverbs 30:5
    God cannot lie-Enos 1:6, Titus 1:2, Heb 6:18, Ether 3:12
    God cannot be tempted with evil-James 1:13
    He cannot walk in crooked paths- Alma 7:20

    “It is by the power of God that all things are made that have been made. It is by the power of Christ that all things are governed and kept in place that are governed and kept in place in the universe. It is the power which proceeds from the presence of the Son of God throughout all the works of his hands, that giveth light, energy, understanding, knowledge, and a degree of intelligence to all the children of men.” (Joseph F. Smith)

    Since the above statement is pretty much a given in LDS theology, just how “out there” is it to believe that if the source upon which this universe was created, and continues to exist, ceased to be, that everything created and governed and dependent upon that source would also cease to be? If there must be opposition in all things-I have no problem equating no creator with no creations. Whether we would “poof out of existence” or melt into a galactic ooze or crumble like cartoon statues etc is open to debate.

    “However it appears you think God doesn’t have free will (so that is is not even possible for God to sin).”

    God exercised His free will to the point of becoming a perfected and infinite being. Perfected beings cannot be deceived, they cannot be tempted, and they have no desire to sin. For something to be possible by definition “implies that a thing may certainly exist or occur given the proper conditions.” If God exists completely outside of and in opposition to the “proper conditions” that must exist in order to commit sin, then I have no problem with the idea that it isn’t “possible” for Him to sin.

  111. avisitor,

    You are free to assume that the Divine Person who leads the Godhead could never cease to be God. But the Book of Mormon disagrees with you and allows for it at least as a logical possibility.

    Also, Joseph Smith taught that our spirits are beginningless and co-eternal with God. So even if God were to cease to be God there is a strong argument based on the comments of Joseph Smith that our spirits are irreducible, eternal and indestructible. That means we would not ““poof out of existence” or melt into a galactic ooze or crumble like cartoon statues etc” even if God were cease to be God.

    (And yes I realize that we have drifted way off topic at this point)

  112. Drift away! This is a fun conversation; I think the murky boundaries point was pretty reasonably established above in any case. So carry on with your galactic ooze theology, Geoff! Good times.

  113. Its hard to determine if the BoM’s statement on God ceasing to be God is a statement about the definition of God or a statement about actual possibility.

    Is Alma saying: if the color blue becomes red, its no longer blue? Or is he saying, its possible for the color blue to become red?

    While I agree that the personage occupying the God position has free will and choice, I lean towards the definition of God = just, and thus an unjust God defies the very definition.

  114. avisitor says:

    Geoff,

    I disagree with you, and found a quote that says it so much better than I ever could from one of my favorite LDS theologians-Robert L. Millet:

    “God cannot and will not cease to be God. His title, his status, and his exalted position are forever fixed and immutable. Nor need the Saints of God spend a particle of a second worrying and fretting about the Almighty falling from grace. Joseph Smith explained in the Lectures on Faith (lecture 4) that for the Saints to do so is to err in doctrine as to the true nature of God and thus fall short of that dynamic faith which leads to life and salvation. Alma’s hypothetical case is just that- purely hypothetical. He is arguing toward the impossible, the absurd, to emphasize the logical certainty of the principle that mercy cannot rob justice. It is as if Alma had said: ‘It is as ridiculous to suppose that mercy can rob justice and that men and women can break the laws of God with impunity, as it is to suppose that God can cease to be God.’ In fact, Alma concludes, ‘God ceaseth not to be God, and mercy claimeth the penitent, and mercy cometh because of the atonement.’ (Alma 42:23).” (Robert L. Millet, Life in Christ, p. 78.)

    I view the term ‘God’ as a title that describes a being in whom all the attributes of “godliness” have been perfected, not as the given name of one particular being. Beings to whom this title applies do not only organize worlds, and universes and creatures and other beings-but they also SUSTAIN their creations through the perfect power and authority that accompany the position.

    If God’s “given/individual name” was Geoff for example, and this particular Geoff God “sinned”, He would still be Geoff, but he would cease to be “a God”. Losing the title would also mean losing the power and glorified energy by which his organized creations are SUSTAINED and made capable of progressing.

    Elements in and of themselves cannot be destroyed, but the organization of those elements can and does change over and over again. If you insist on splitting hairs, I will agree that it could be said that our spirits would most likely continue to “exist” even if they retrograded back into pure intelligence or exactly whatever they originated from, just as the element that make up our physical “organization” would continue to exist. Since there is no doctrine revealing that some kind of “vice God” or back-up program exists at all, (which seems like a serious oversight if in fact God is not totally and completely reliable) it is nothing more than sheer assumption that all creation would continue on in the forms we recognize them as today.

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