—————– Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. p. 718
One of the key challenges in defining a post-Darwinian LDS theology is that of the Fall. The Fall is considered one of the foundational pillars of Mormon doctrine (as Bruce R. McConkie has often argued). This because the Fall is what provides the backdrop for the necessity of the Atonement, another foundational LDS doctrinal pillar.
The received view of the Fall goes something like this. The Earth was created in a paradisiacal state in which Adam and Eve lived in a state of innocence. Satan temps Eve to partake of a forbidden fruit. She gets Adam to partake of the same. Sin and death enter the world. It ‘Falls’ into a new state where physical death reigns, where sin is possible, and unless a redeemer fixes the results of this event mankind must remain in this state. Christ provides the role as redeemer and through the atonement conquers both sin and death, providing the opportunity for repentance of individual sin and for a resurrection of all mankind. In this, the entire LDS plan of salvation pivots on the Atonement, which in turn is necessitated by the Fall.
A literalist reading of the Fall suggests that prior to the Fall physical death had no part in Earth life. While such literalisms are widespread within LDS membership, and in much of the unofficial rhetoric of some past church leaders, such a reading seems untenable in light of current understanding about the way that life has unfolded on Earth. Are literalist readings necessary? I don’t think so, but there has been little work in constructing a conception of the Fall that is both true to its doctrinal necessity and current understanding of how life on Earth has unfolded. There is a temptation to resist a scriptural reading informed by science, because science is by construction provisional. However, I would argue that all hermeneutical frameworks, of which science is just one, are provisional and must be renegotiated in light of information, perspectives, and facts that present themselves within the current horizon for interpretation. To not do this is lose vitality and introduce a kind of fragility that ultimately collapses the entire structure for some people.
My task today is to lay the framework for a reading of LDS scripture that is both true to the text and to the world we see unfolding through modern scientific enterprise. Why we should take any stock in the scientific worldview has been outlined in many of my previous posts and I invite you to look at those if you are uncomfortable granting science any relevance to theological interpretation. Here I take for granted that this is a worthy task to attempt to ground scripture in the physical realities that have been uncovered in the last two-hundred years and are robust enough, I argue, that to ignore them can only be called irrational.
Here is what I hope to do in outline. I will begin by exploring the use of the word death in Paul’s letter to the Romans, this will give context to the ways that the word ‘death’ can be used in the scriptures. This will set the stage for reading Book of Mormon Scriptures in 2 Nephi and Alma 12 that explicitly explore the Fall. A useful way to start is considering Badiou’s concept of an ‘event.’ I will then argue with Meillassoux that the typical view of God as absolute is incoherent. In fact I will argue here are no absolutes, including the common Plotinian readings of God as the ‘One,’ or as the ‘Uncaused Cause,’ which are inappropriate for Mormon views. Including the placeholder God in which God is envisioned as a position filled by persons who have acquired necessary attributes to instantiate what is essentially the same structure that plays the same role as the ‘One’ in Neo-Platonic conception of deity, except with holes that have to plugged in with physical persons.
Good Mormon Doctrine seems to be based more on a God that is much more contingent, much more temporal, and as I’ll argue much more emergent than the NeoPlotinic God that some keep trying to slip back into our theology. I will hear draw on Adam Miller’s important new book to show how an object oriented ontology seems more appropriate to Mormonism than classic borrowings from classic Trinitarianism. I will propose a conception of ontology that not only allows for an evolutionary history, but requires it, and which sees the Fall as the entry of the possibility for human agency into the universe and its attendant accidents and opportunities. This suggests a new understanding of Christ’s atonement as an unfolding of a kind of ecological niche construction of grace toward agential behavior.
This is pure Adam Milleresqe Goldberging. I do not offer this as a suggestion of what I believe, but as speculation on directions that might prove fruitful in Mormon Theology that more fully engages with what we’ve discovered about the world. I plan to post about every three days. Feel free to chime in as we go.
Part II: Roman Legions of Death!