They ain’t heavy; They’re my brethren

It has been reported that this weekend Presidential Candidate Mike Huckabee will have an article published in the New York Times Magazine in which he asks, about Mormonism, “Don’t they believe that Jesus and the Devil are brothers?” This question is a standard Anti-Mormon trope. However, I do not understand why it is so. For that matter, I do not understand why it is more offensive than actual Protestant belief regarding the origin of evil.

Christianity has long struggled with the origin of evil in the world. If God created all things ex nihilo and if God is omnipotent, omniscient, and so forth, then he is the ultimate author of evil. Even though the Devil and Adam are in rebellion to God, it is God who made them (and us) so. Thus, God gave us sufficient will to rebel and the inclination to rebel, and then, when we rebel, he cuts us off and condemns us to hell for rebelling. It does not require omniscience to see the flaws of this plan, especially if one posits that God is a God of love.

The advantage of the Mormon approach to the problem of evil is in our belief that God has chosen to limit his ability to alter our agency. Thus whatever evil we do, we do because we are allowed to do it. If evil (or, more likely, selfishness) is our nature, then it isn’t because God made us so, but because that is the nature that God is helping us overcome. We are co-infinite with God, so it isn’t ultimately his fault.

Further, since we do believe that the Fall was a planned-or event, God remains a loving God. Although he has made it very likely that we will sin, allowing us the ability to use our own agency and sticking us in a body that is mortal, he has also provided a Savior for us. This Savior, our Brother, acts also in his own agency, sacrificing himself in order to save the rest of us. Thus, the Father and the Son have created a plan that is reliant on their love for us and our acknowledging that love to work. We can change and become better people through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, in addition to being saved from eternal damnation.

Our other brother, Satan, was given his agency, as we were. He chose poorly. He led others astray and continues to do so. He appears to be motivated by spite, pride, a desire to be right, and a general dismissal of the possibility of God’s mercy and love. After all, he was rejected for rebelling; why won’t everyone else be? Satan’s continued existence is evidence of God’s commitment to the principle of agency above all else, not evidence of God’s lack of foresight.

The notion that Jesus and Satan are brothers is true in the same sense that Adolf Hitler, Mother Teresa, Paris Hilton, Charles Dickens, Attila the Hun, and I are siblings. It is an attempt to reduce our notion of the pre-mortal existence to its ridiculous extreme. However, it is, I believe, a better solution to the problem of evil that then assumption that a loving God doesn’t actually love some of his children, so he created a means of temptation so that they would not have to be saved. What is the saving grace of a God who is so stingy with the salvation offered? Where is the truth in a God who creates the Father of Lies?

Mr. Huckabee is most likely bringing up the subject in an effort to ridicule the beliefs of Mormons and thereby shore up his support in the upcoming Iowa caucuses, which he may well win. The New York Times Magazine is facilitating his effort. That said, I can’t think of a doctrine that better highlights the superiority of LDS thought over Protestant approaches to Christianity. If a mention of our doctrine leads to a close examination of the doctrine within Protestant Christianity, then I can only see this as a net gain.

Comments

  1. Very well said. You expressed this much better than I did in an attempt earlier today over at Todd’s blog.

    Todd was quoting an article in this month’s Harper’s by two atheists who make the following point:

    Standard versions of the Argument from Evil concern the evils God fails to prevent: the pain and suffering of human beings and the sins people commit. The most ambitious versions of the argument claim that the existence of evil is logically incompatible with the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient, and completely benevolent deity. In my view, this version succeeds conclusively. But I think the usual philosophical discussions of the problem of evil are a sideshow. What interests me here is a simpler argument, one that has been strangely neglected.

    We might start instead from the evils God himself perpetrates. In duration and intensity, these dwarf the kinds of suffering and sin to which the standard versions allude. For God has prescribed torment for insubordination. The punishment is to go on forever, and the agonies to be endured by the damned intensify, in unimaginable ways, the sufferings we undergo in our earthly lives. In both dimensions, time and intensity, the torment is infinitely worse than all the suffering and sin that will have occurred during the history of life in the universe. What God does is thus infinitely worse than what the worst of tyrants have done.

    Todd asked Before we continue, do LDS friends believe this logic?. (As you know, Todd W. is an Evangelical preacher whose ministry focuses on converting Mormons to Trinitarianism.) My answer to him was that many Latter-day Saints do believe this logic to a certain extent — in fact, one could argue that it is inherent in LDS doctrine as our doctrine’s implicit critique on the creedal Christian construct of God’s nature and activities. That is, their theology really does lead to such conclusions.

    So my thought was that many Latter-day Saints do agree with this logic, at least to some extent, and I think your post here explains why quite nicely.

  2. They use it because it sounds bad in a soundbite. When explained it usually makes sense to the average Christian.

  3. Kevin Barney says:

    Here is a basic treatment of the Jesus and Satan are brothers issue from the FAIR Wiki.

  4. Antonio Parr says:

    The article is available on line.

    If Huckabee is the face of the Republican Party majority, why are Mormons staying in a party where they are so despised? Why not move to the Democratic Party? Sure, they are the home of atheists, gays and lesbians, but it appears that they will make room for us, too. If the Republicans reject Romney because of his Mormonism, then I think that it is time for Mormons to rethink their automatic allegiance to the Republican Party. (If the Democratic Party was good enough for Hugh B. Brown and James Faust, maybe its good enough for the rest of us, too.)

  5. re # 4, I would guess that abortion is the key reason that Latter-day Saints are wary of going over to the Democrats even though they know the Republican base hates them.

  6. “If Huckabee is the face of the Republican Party majority, why are Mormons staying in a party where they are so despised? Why not move to the Democratic Party?”

    I left the Republican party (a party to which I have contributed thousands of dollars in the past) 4 days ago because of its lack of outrage and down right acceptance of Huckabee and other’s subtle (and now not so subtle) attacks on my religion. Until I read Lawwrence O-Donnell’s tirade on the McLaughlin Group I was leaning toward the Democratic “acceptors of Harry Reid” Party. For now, registered Libertarian again.

  7. Cut s dean says:

    Thank you for this.

    The agency argument, or free will defence, you use answers little. (Ok, I was trying to be kind: it answers nothing.) If God is omnipotent, omniscient and omni-benevolent, any benefits we gain by using our agency can be achieved in another, less painful way.

    We learn from bad experience; that´s great, but it´s unnecessary, as the all powerful and all knowing god could use another method. If necessary, the lesson can be implanted in our heads without the experience. Is God omnipotent and omniscient? If so the world is evidence she/he/it is not omni-benevolent. Is God omni-benevolent? If so then omnipotence or omniscience lacks.

    I´m afraid this is a conflict not easily resolved and overlooked in your thoughts above, interesting though they are.

  8. “If Huckabee is the face of the Republican Party majority”

    That’s an if yet to be determined.

  9. Excellent, well stated post John C.

  10. This is a fantastic soundclip for Huckabee to use. True enough, and just enough to give Christian Fundies enough to rip out their “Christian Outrage” kits.

    But fact is every single Christian from fundies, to casual/moderates to pastors that has confronted me with this little tidbit has always been sent away stammering by just a little logic.

    As bbell said you take the time to explain it people will usually understand it.

  11. Cut s,

    So how is the Deus ex nihilo argument any better? What kind of sadistic God would willingly create evil (e.g. torture, child molestation, etc..)? I’m not sure what you’re arguing here.

    the all powerful and all knowing god could use another method.

    How would you propose God would go about this? By implanting experiences in our brain ala the Matrix? Experience and learning that is not gained through your own choices would be empty and meaningless.

  12. “Experience and learning that is not gained through your own choices would be empty and meaningless.”

    MattG,

    You are arguing that God is not omniscient, which is fine for me, but I suspect you have problems with your own argument.

  13. It is true that there is as much or more anti-Mormon bigotry on the left as there is on the right (to see some evidence of this, one only need visit the Huffington site regarding comments on the recent Larry O’Donnell diatribe). I think in both cases it is the “extreme right” and “extreme left” who are responsible for this. On the far left it seems to be mostly politically motivated (example: absence of lefty religion-based criticism of Harry Reid) whereas on the far right is seems to be religiously motivated. I hope I can stick with the Republican party as I find the libertarians to be too permissive when it comes to social issues: in other words allowing so much “freedom” that the rights of those who promote evil infringe on the rights of others to protect themselves and their families from it. Hopefully this Huckabee surge will backfire on the anti-Mormons who seem to have created it, so that the whole country will see their foolishness. If this happens, then perhaps the influence of the anti-Mormon fringe on the Republican party will be weakened – being exposed to all for the bigoted travesty it is.

  14. john f,
    Democratic president/Republican president/Democratic congress/Republican congress:

    Roe v. Wade still stands. The Republican strategists have sold the religious right (including Mormons) a dud. The Supreme Court carrot is a carrot, nothing more.

    Sorry for the threadjack. Proceed with the Jesus/Satan brotherhood argument (I can see the Godmakers cartoon in my mind’s eye. Chances are, so did Huck).

  15. Cut,
    I assume from your comments that you find religious assertions as to the nature of God inappropriate in general. You may have a point. In any case, these are the hoops we jump through in order to make a possible foreign God relatable.

    In general, I believe that our response is that whether or not God could make us better by direct divine intervention instead of indirect experience, he chooses not to because betterment is something best achieved or accepted by one’s own self. This may be further self-justification, but it appears to be what we’ve got.

  16. That’s quite a bit of wishful thinking there Phil, but I hope you’re right. Then maybe my money and I can come back to the Republican Party.

    Maybe I have fallen victim to the liberal media’s conspiracy to fracture the Religious Right from within. If so, Huckleberry and the Fundies are playing right into their hands.

  17. Nice post John.

    One question – was it a choice by God to not take away agency, or is it something he could not do even if he chose to?

  18. I’ve wondered for years why the majority of church members continue to want the acceptance of the Evangelical Republicans. Two years ago, the National Day of Prayer was organized by an evangelical group, and Mormons in Utah in particular were excluded from being able to participate in planning or participating in any meaningful way.

    If nothing else, the Romney candidacy has shown that the emperor truly has no clothes, and we are not as mainstream as many had hoped. Our doctrines and theology are different, we have a radical social history, and we are still viewed with suspicion by most on the extreme right and extreme left. I was astounded by the vehemence displayed by O’Donnell on the McLaughlin show, but then, that show is usually given over to extreme displays of emotion, so I shouldn’t have been surprised.

    We really don’t believe in the “Three O’s” of traditional trinitarianism (omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence), but we apparently even struggle internally with our understanding of the nature of God. The problem of evil came up in GD a few weeks back in my ward, and in a moment of perhaps uncalled for clarity, simply stated “God is not Omnipotent”, which brought on at least one attack back about undermining faith.

    If we truly believe that God progressed to his present state by knowledge, understanding those principle elements that are the foundation of the eternities, such as obedience, agency, progression, and others, then God is not able to circumvent those eternal laws, or he ceases to be God. Hence, we are left with the agency to sin, and through the Atonement, to repent. Our doctrinal understanding that we are not created ex nihilo is a huge advantage over traditional Christian theology, and most of the rest of the Christian world doesn’t get it.

    We really don’t want to be lumped in with the Christian Right, because we really don’t believe a lot of the same things. So when someone tells me we aren’t Christian because we don’t worship the same Christ, I tend to agree. The Christ we worship is a much fuller, more truly divine version, and we should not hide the differences.

  19. Perry Shumway says:

    From Cut s dean (# 7):

    ” . . . any benefits we gain by using our agency can be achieved in another, less painful way.”

    You’re assuming that minimization of pain is God’s aim for us, and that the pain we go through indicates that God is either unwilling or unable to prevent it. Bad assumption.

    Also, omnipotence is only the ABILITY to do anything or everything. Just because God CAN do everything, doesn’t mean He DOES. His choice to grant us agency doesn’t imply that he was unable to do otherwise. Your personal priority may be to minimize pain; if His is different, don’t assume that yours is right and His is wrong.

  20. I appreciate your response, John C., and hope that you didn´t read my comments as a mean quibble. I just struggle to understand God´s absolute power and knowledge with what I see around me in the world, conditions which can seem so unkind. The explanation of agency doesn´t bridge the chasm, for me at least. I enjoyed reading your comments, and it does appear to be “what we´ve got.”

  21. Perry Shumway,

    I´m afraid you missed the point. The topic has been discussed for centuries in the literature. You may want to go there.

  22. Eric,
    Six in one and a half dozen in the other. I don’t think we have a way of telling the difference, although my thought tends to lie with the first of your two propositions.

    kevinf,
    The status of God’s Omnipotence has always been debated within Mormonism (and without, rocks being so big and so forth). We do believe him omnipotent, but I don’t know that we have ever really tried to flesh out that idea. If we did, we may find it to be a very limited omnipotence.

    Perry,
    I do believe that God would like to minimize our pain. I believe he is compassionate and that the whole purpose of the commandments is to minimize pain on earth. Pain may be necessary, but I don’t believe God would encourage us to multiply it and I do believe he would like it minimized. That said, I do think it is necessary.

    Cut,
    A frequent atheist argument that I encounter is that anyone could have come up with a better system than what we have got. I tend to think that that argument is too reliant on assumptions made regarding God’s purposes in this world (as are our own arguments most likely). The choice to have faith in this case, I think, only appears PanGlossian. I don’t believe we live in the best of all possible worlds; in fact, there are many things that I believe could be improved. However, I do believe that God wants what is best for us and that his goals are served by letting us improve (or destroy) the world around us. If Hell is other people, then they could be Heaven, too.

  23. Let’s do theology here and anti-mormon polemics/politics on Ronan’s post.

  24. Cut,

    In fact there was indeed a plan to force false experiences on people and forces them to live perfect lives absent misery and suffery and everyone would be saved.

    You disagreed with that plan and that’s why you’re here.

  25. Rev 12:7-9 is where you start to explain this.

    after about 3 minutes of fleshed out details the evangelical usually goes OK. Big deal.

    There is far more to get “after” LDS beliefs then this little partially biblical based doctrine.

    It just sounds good in a soundbite.

  26. Steve Evans says:

    I think we need to clarify that “sam” is neither Sam MB nor Sam B. I suspect he is Samwise Gamgee.

  27. For purposes of a basic theodicy, the core critical proposition that permits an LDS theodicy which is distinct from one which struggles with the omnipotent God of traditional Christianity is this: God can not exalt beings without their willing it, and their passage through some kind of formative process. This is because other beings are self-existent rather than wholly made from nothing by God. I believe that one can make a decent LDS theodicy without any other qualifications to God’s omnipotence.

  28. Last Lemming says:

    Until I read Lawwrence O-Donnell’s tirade on the McLaughlin Group I was leaning toward the Democratic “acceptors of Harry Reid” Party.

    Last time I checked, Lawrence O’Donnell was registering a zero in the polls for the Democratic race. When somebody with actual standing in the Democratic party parrots O’Donnell’s tirade, you will be have some justification in rejecting it.

  29. I am the first to say that 1) the existence of evil 2) God is all-loving and 3)God is all-powerful is a mystery. But I trust God’s promises where all evil will be cast into hell.

    Just for some clarification, John C., does LDS theology teach that God is omnipotent and omniscient? I get confused signals at times. I think I saw a book, authored by one of the GA’s. It is highlighted presently in Barnes & Noble and speaks of Gods’ omniscience and evil. That is alone a mystery to me, but still I trust the Lord. (I will try to get back with you on the book and quote.)

    Secondly, can evil erupt once again in yet future LDS celestial kingdom?

  30. Todd, it seems to me that when ever faced with the ridiculous or sinister, the response is that it is “a mystery.”

    Whenever people have true agency there is always the logical possibility of evil. The Celestial Kingdom is typically thought of being inhabited by beings who won’t chose evil even though they logically could.

  31. Todd,
    The definition of “omnipotent” and “omniscient” are too vague, I think, for them to be useful. They could mean almost anything. We try to be clear about when we think God is limited and when He isn’t and we also say that any limitation God faces is of his own making. With those caveats, we often use those terms and mean them.

    As to evil erupting in the Celestial Kingdom, I suppose it is a possibility. However, I find it unlikely, just as I find it unlikely that God would ever make the choices necessary for him to cease to be God in a Mormon context. It is a thoroughly Mormon (and I think refreshing) notion that even God has to hold to some standards.

  32. Adam Greenwood says:

    I think it gets used because it implies that we think Christ and Satan are similar, that Christ has a devilish streak and that Satan is perhaps some misunderstood gnostic hero.

  33. Todd:

    If you (or anyone else) are interested, I did a simple review of BH Roberts opinions of the omni’s here

  34. I’ve always felt like life here on earth was a pretty good represenation of how life in the afterlife would be, i.e. as above, so below – just in reverse. I think I can understand a great deal more about our relationship to God and His wishes, powers, and limitations when I think about my wisher, powers, and limitations as a parent.

  35. For the record we should point out that Steve Evans should not be confused with the “mormon” Steve Young, but is rather more like Steve Martin…in the movie Roxanne…

  36. For what it’s worth, Huckabee apologized for the question shortly ago.

  37. Steve Evans says:

    Leave the jokes to me.

  38. Perry Shumway says:

    Cut – I am aware that the problem of evil has been discussed for centuries.

    A fundamental issue I have with the way the problem is defined – a definition which you seem happy to go along with – is the notion that God somehow wishes that it weren’t necessary for His children to suffer temporally, and that He is thereby limited because He is unable to make things the way He would prefer them to be. The assumption is that an omnipowerful being would never choose to set things up the way they are now, with all of the suffering and injustice that we see in this imperfect world, if He indeed had the power to choose to set things up otherwise. Given the choice, it supposedly stands to reason that God would make a world devoid of evil and difficulty, so that we could all take an easy ride to exaltation. The fact that our existence is not that way seems to indicate that God’s power is limited.

    It reminds me of a piece of literature from the Jehovah’s Witnesses I read once, in which the caption under a picture depicting war, drug abuse, prostitution, etc., posed the question, “Did God want the world to be like this?” The text below that question indicated that no, He didn’t, but that Satan had temporarily frustrated His plan. The assurance was that in the long term, God would wipe Satan out, and then everything would be bliss, the way God wanted it to be all along.

    You seem to share this point of view, which is that there is no rational way to think that God wanted (intended/planned/expected) the world to be as pain-filled as it is. This viewpoint assumes that pain is a regrettable yet unavoidable evil. I think that God looks at this life as a tiny blip, and that any pain suffered here (except for the death of His Son, of course) has much less significance than we, who have no way of glimpsing eternity, ascribe to it.

    And I think that He set it up this way precisely because earthly pain (our own or that of others) is often the primary thing which tries our faith in Him, which is necessary because if we walked by perfect knowledge instead of faith, and continued to sin to some degree, the Atonement would no longer be able to completely clean us of our sins. To badly misquote Spider-Man: “Where much is given, much is expected.” In other words, the more knowledge we have, the less we are able to sin and still rely on the Atonement. So God chose to set up a world full of suffering and evil, at least in part, so that we would have lots of reason to doubt Him, so that our choosing to follow Him in spite of the faith-damaging things we see around us would enable us to lay claim to the blessings of the Atonement and inherit eternal life.

    All of which means to me that yes, God DID intend for the world to be the way it is, warts and all.

  39. #36 – Yep, for what it’s worth.

  40. Cut s dean says:

    Thank you, Perry Shumway, but you don´t understand the issue, while JWL (in comment 27) does and suggests something to think about.

  41. You know, I’m starting to come around the Vardis Fisher’s point of view. The continual attempts to deflect, sanitize, and pablum-ize LDS doctrine and theology are having the opposite effect of that intended – both for the LDS Church and the Romney campaign. Yes, Romney’s religion is not a valid criteria in this election, and yes, there’s been a terrible amount of bigotry and ignorance displayed in this campaign by people who should know better – which for me has been shocking, more than forty years after Catholicism was disposed of in the 1960 election.

    But the curiousness and suspicion engendered by LDS ideas, history, and practices has to be dealt with a practical, straightforward, and truthful way – or kiss the idea of a Mormon president goodbye for another generation…. The church spokesperson’s comments on the Jesus/Lucifer relationship do not fill these criteria, and neither did Mitt Romney’s recent “my religion speech.”

    Say what is believed, discuss the theology and the historical background, remark upon the implications, and stand up and take the consequences – whatever they may be. Admittedly, I’m politically naive, but I’d rather count on an American sense of privacy, fairness, tolerance, and willingness to listen to unfamiliar ideas, than the ability of an institution and a candidate to shy away from controversy, and then spin it when confrontation occurs.

    As a non-Mormon with some knowledge of the LDS Church, the idea that Jesus and Lucifer were brothers does not offend me – although I can’t say I accept it. However, there’s a certain logic and coherence to it, provided one accepts the premises of LDS doctrine. How many Americans might come to similar conclusions if given a simple, straightforward account of the matter? Perhaps not most, perhaps not even many, but enough I’d wager that the effect would be far better than this erosion of credibility I see happening now.

  42. #40 – Perry might not have used theologically appealing terms like JWL did, but their statements aren’t diametrically opposite examples of one’s understanding and another’s lack of understanding. Your back-handed slap of Perry was completely undeserved, imho. If you had said, “You don’t understand me (or the specific issue I’m trying to address),” that would be different. “You don’t understand the issue” simply is too broad a condemnation.

  43. Huckabee is deliberately pandering to the Evangelical base by using the Mormons as a wedge issue. He knows that if he can portray Mormons as extreme, weird, or bizarre, the Evangelical base of voters will fold like a cheap suit behind his campaign.

    Granted 1/3 of Evangelicals deplore the LDS Church, but the remaining 2/3 are either open minded or not openly bigoted.

    Huckabee’s two most recent examples of enraging the “Mormon question”

    1) Refusing to answer whether he believes Mormons are a cult religion.

    2) Stirring up theological questions by stating that Satan and Jesus are brothers with the deliberate intent to portray our faith as bizarre or untrustable (from an Evangelical perspective).

    Shame on Huckabee for his disgusting tactics!

  44. Aaron Brown says:

    Some interesting reactions to Huckabee’s comment over at The Corner. Michael Novak, for one, says it’s prompted him to publicly support Romney. See: http://corner.nationalreview.com/post/?q=NTc5NjdiNWVhNThmZDJhZWYwMzM4ZmIyNjgxM2MwODI=

    Also, did any of you know that Mormons were so nice?: http://corner.nationalreview.com/post/?q=ZTUwMGM3N2U2ZTAzNGYwNjlhMGZlZDBjOGExZjJhZjI=

  45. Andrew Izatt says:

    Let me preface my comments by stating that I’m not trying in any way to be antagonistic. I ‘ve lurked long enough to know that the tone of comments can be hard to read so I hope that this one isn’t. I was approached by an atheist friend in my stake who brought up some points that have, in my mind, complicated constructing a theodicy, so I thought I’d throw them out to the bloggernacle.

    Mormon theology suggests that God is not omnipotent in the classical sense. (He can’t create matter out of nothing for instance.) And while I agree with that, and it makes constructing a theodicy easier, I don’t see how natural evils can exist especially in light of scripture. In Third Nephi for instance, before Christ comes, the wicked are destroyed in earthquakes, fires, etc. by God. So God can control the elements. If God can make bad things happen on Earth, why doesn’t He just use His power to stop them from happening? From the tsunamis a couple years ago that wrought great destruction on some of the poorest people on Earth, to the earthquakes this summer in Huntington that trapped and killed six miners plus their rescuers, so much suffering could be prevented by God’s intervention but He just lets it happen.

    The Atonement is a helpful key here: Christ descended below all things and God didn’t intervene in His suffering, so why should He intervene in ours? But I still feel like the issue is more complicated than that. The idea of the eternity of matter is also helpful but as before, it still leaves some holes that beg to be filled in my mind.

  46. Aaron Brown says:

    Andrew,

    Your point is strongest, I think, if you point out that we LDS believe that God does, in fact, intervene (or at least we implore him to intervene as if we think He will) in what seem to be trivial instances, at least as compared to the huge, horrific tragedies you mention. But I’m not up fo this conversation right now, so I’ll leave it at that.

    Congrats on your mission call, by the way. When do you leave?

    Aaron B

  47. John C.: let me just say that I wrote my post on the Huckabee flap several hours before I read yours. Honest. Great minds and all that.

    As for the issue of evil and suffering — I found myself writing a multi-paragraph posting here, but then decided to drag it over to my blog. But here’s a quote:

    Consider this: if agency is an eternal aspect of eternal intelligences, what about those intelligences that chose evil early on — before ever receiving ’spirit bodies’? If agency existed prior to spirit incarnation — and I would certainly read the scriptures and the prophets that way — then the spirit sibling we call Lucifer is clearly a ‘Johnny-come-lately’ to the dark side.

    ..bruce..

  48. Andrew Izatt says:

    Hey thanks Aaron. I go to Provo January 30.

  49. Perry Shumway says:

    Thank you, Ray (# 42) for not dismissing my ideas offhand.

    I’m tempted to think that the earlier dismissal from Cut (# 40) is a thinly-veiled avoidance of a little scrutiny of his (her?) ideas, which he (she?) may be ill-prepared to defend. Such a terse and pithy brush-off suggests that something I said may have cut too deeply. But in the interest of fairness and for the benefit of the doubt, I’ll instead defer to Cut’s self-ascribed superior knowledge and assume that he or she has a far better grasp of traditional Christian theodicy efforts (and more recent Mormon attempts) than do I, and leave it at that.

    This notwithstanding, I want to try once more to explain my view regarding the problem of evil, mostly because I’m interested in how an informed reader who disagrees with it might argue against it. In short, I’m asking for the same kind of scrutiny with which I tried to provide Cut, who (in # 20 above) indicates that he/she has a problem with the fact that God allows “conditions which can seem so unkind” to abound.

    Bruce’s Webster’s blog (linked from # 47 above) aims to answer this question [e.g., why does God permit evil to continue?] first by an appeal to agency (which Cut rejects as not “bridging the chasm” (#20 above)), and then by proposing that real evil is far worse than what we experience in mortality and that the suffering which we view is, in relative terms, rather mild.

    My idea is this: God has set up a world comprised both of things which affirm faith (scriptures, the Holy Ghost, testimonies, prophets, etc.) and of things which give rise to doubts (blacks and the priesthood, Native American DNA, plural marriage, and [more than any other], seemingly needless human suffering). There is, of necessity, a delicate balance between these two poles. If there were too many faith-affirming evidences in life, we would have too much knowledge (as opposed to faith), and when we sinned, the Atonement would no longer be fully effective for us. We would be lost, because (as the BoM teaches dozens of times), where there is greater knowledge, there is greater condemnation.

    On the other hand, if the scale were tipped too far to the other side, so that almost everything caused us to doubt, no one would believe, and so we wouldn’t be saved anyway. To strike the fragile balance which provides enough faith-promoting fodder for the least of us to be able to believe in God, while at the same time leaving enough doubt-inducing aspects of life so as to cause us to have to actively exercise faith in order not to be swept into unbelief, God has to be both proactive and deliberate. He has to maintain the correct equilibrium between faith and knowledge.

    Hence, nothing can be relegated to randomness or chance. God is an active participant, constantly adjusting things so that each of us has a set of individual experiences which allow us to choose to have faith in Him, or not.

    If God were suddenly to decide that all pain and suffering should be avoided, and if everything were always perfectly just and fair and painless, then it would be much more obvious that there is a God in the first place. It would be far easier to have faith in Him; a person under such ideal circumstances would be a fool not to believe. The scale would be tipped precariously in the direction of knowledge, leaving us very little wiggle room for sin. If we were to commit the kinds of sins we now commit, under such conditions and armed with such knowledge, we might never be able to completely repent, the Atonement notwithstanding.

    In sum, God allows continued suffering because if He didn’t, His very existence would be too obvious to us, which would prevent us from having to struggle with doubt, thereby depriving us of the ability to receive complete forgiveness of any but the most tiny, insignificant sins.

    The fact that this very thing – that is, the idea that a perfect God would allow continued suffering in this world – causes people like Cut to struggle against his/her own disbelief – underscores the correctness of this viewpoint.

    I rest my case.

  50. In all fairness, Perry, that last sentence also was over-the-top.

  51. Perry Shumway says:

    You’re right. Sorry.

  52. The idea of good and evil can be explained easily by Darwin’s ideas on evolution by means of natural selection. God was smart enough to set the controls to allow for his children to make decisions based on our wonderful ability to reciprocate altruism. Satan in my opinion was the answer to evil when there wasn’t a scientific process to provide a much better answer. Check out a book called “The Moral Animal”. Although simplistic in its explanation, it is a great start in understanding why we do good and evil.

    A little of base but I think it fits the topic.

    John

  53. We in the church need to grow out of our simple explanation of these issues. I know I have no say in the process but it seems to me that we could jump ahead of the theological curve by embracing the findings of science rather than retaining doctrines that will, at some point in the future, seem as ridiculous as a flat earth or a sun that revolves around that earth.

    Any of us that grew up in multi-generational LDS families were taught that Satan, Jesus and all of us are brothers. Let’s fess up and move on.

  54. John W. Actually, I don’t think that any LDS families put it that way at all. The assertion: “you believe that Satan and Christ are brothers” is a sound-bite barb thrown by anti-Mormons as an attempt to suggest that our doctrines are absurd. LDS families may be taught that “we are all brothers and sisters” and “every living person is a son or daughter of God.” Evangelicals throw out the convenient sound-bite as a way of suggesting that such a view is unacceptable because it makes Satan and Christ of the same species and thus violates the view that God is a different kind of thing than humans.

    So I believe that you’ve missed the point of Huckabee’s seemingly innocent barb. Huckabee is throwing out a sound-bite that he picked up from anti-Mormon literature. He isn’t reflecting the way a Mormon would explain his or her faith.

    The question in light of his fairly tepid apology is whether it is calculated to send subtle messages to his base that abhors Mormons or truly is innocent. It is easy for him to say that he would never make religion an issue explicitly while insidiously doing just that in code language his political base well understands.

    I also doubt that evolution easily explains altruistic tendencies. There is a large literature on that issue because it is an issue. I also doubt that non-theistic evolution can explain the existence of any morality that isn’t reducible to mere survival of the fittest and thus explains that what we think are real moral principals are an illusion and have no reality outside their function for the species. In a theistic evolution, evolution plays no role in explaining real moral principals and the theism does all of the explaining. At least that is my take on it.

  55. Any of us that grew up in multi-generational LDS families were taught that Satan, Jesus and all of us are brothers.

    Yes, but Huck left out the last part of that trio and failed to contextualize. See my comment at Ronan’s post.

  56. I saw Huckabee get questioned about this by Wolf Blitzer on CNN yesterday. He was backtracking mightily, claiming that the “Jesus/Satan” thing was just a off-hand, sincere query to the reporter, who seemed to know a lot more about Mormons than he does. The response actually sounded very convincing when Huckabee said it (he’s a very likable and charismatic guy–more so than Romney, I think), but I’m not sure his explanation holds any water with me. As a Baptist minister, I’m sure that Huckabee knows more about Mormons and Mormonism than he’s letting on. I also doubt that the NY Times writer mischaracterized the comment as much as Huckabee is now claiming.

  57. John Taber says:

    I’m sure that Huckabee knows more about Mormons and Mormonism than he’s letting on.

    But what about his sources? Maybe what he’s been told has been rather warped.

  58. Perry,
    The thrust behind Cut’s questions is that there are things on this earth that are hard to reconcile with a loving God. Infants being tortured; children being raped; the innocent being treated as the guilty; and so forth. Saying that God carefully orchestrates all of this first denies free will on the part of people and second makes him the ultimate perpetrator of an awful lot of suffering, the sort of person who, in a mortal, we would call a monster.

    I tend to think that God intervenes according to a combination of both his and our will, but that sometimes he doesn’t. The method behind when he does and does not intervene is simply a mystery. Going back to Todd’s statements, that is a sort of cop-out, but it is also honest in that I am saying that I believe in a God who does things that simply don’t make sense to me sometimes.

    John W.,
    I don’t see evolution as ultimately providing moral answers. While it may superior in the sense of natural selection to be altruistic, my decision to leave a tip for a waitress I will never see again is certainly not motivated by the need to distribute my genetic material as widely as possible, nor is a mother’s love. Whatever we do, we do for psychological reasons, not genetically predetermined ones.

    BTD Greg,
    I also find Huckabee very, very charming (if he had kept his mouth shut, I would be very tempted to vote for him).

  59. Perry Shumway says:

    John C.,

    Thank you for your thoughtful reply.

    The fact that God carefully orchestrates the conditions within which we exercise our agency in no way denies our free will. And although the conditions he creates give rise to natural disasters, accidents, and evil actions by some of His children, it’s a stretch to say that his allowing these things to happen makes him a perpetrator, much less someone who could be called a monster.

    And characterizing what we see on earth as “an awful lot of suffering” may be inaccurate. Our limited mortal experience might magnify the significance and depth of the pain and suffering we observe. To God, as Bruce Webster points out in his blog, what seems huge to us is probably comparatively tiny and meaningless.

    I respect your notion that God sometimes intervenes and sometimes doesn’t, the reasons for which are a mystery. I tend to favor the interventionist view, if only for the reason that Jesus would not have placed so much emphasis on prayer and fasting if God were a passive dice-roller who simply set things into motion and then sat back and watched.

  60. Perry,
    I don’t really see the point in characterizing our suffering as insignificant in an eternal perspective. If we experience it as significant, then it is. If this wasn’t the case, why would our trials by trying?

    Also, of course we would call a human who stuck a child in a room with an pedophile and ignored the screams from inside a monster or worse. Even if the human planned on really punishing the pedophile afterward. The interplay of free will and divine intervention is complex and mysterious. There isn’t any easy way out of it.

  61. jOhn,

    I have to disagree with your original assertion that God “has chosen to limit his ability to alter our agency.”

    I am more in that camp that God is limited and cannot alter our agency. To do so would make life unfair and would confuse the laws of justice, and if that happened God would “cease to be God” (Alma 42:22)

  62. Perry,

    Just a word of caution about expressing a “be grateful for your trials, since they are God’s will” sentiment. Just as an example, I have seen what the death of a child or a divorce can do to a family. It is brutal – absolutely and unequivocally brutal – to twist a knife into open, bleeding wounds of those who simply can’t say, “Thank you, God, for the death of my child (or the infidelity of my husband and the subsequent destruction of my family).” I want to learn all I can in this life, but I do NOT want to do so by seeing one of my children die or by abusing my children and repenting of it or any number of other things. I hope I could learn from such a situation, but I could not be “grateful” for it.

    I am not saying this is what you mean in your comments, but it is way too easy for those who are suffering and in intense pain to hear that message. The example of a kidnapping, rape, torture and murder of an innocent is the extreme, bit it is illustrative, nonetheless. Any implication that such an act is God’s will and we should be grateful for the opportunity it gives us to learn some lesson . . .

    Again, just be careful how you phrase and frame this topic in a public forum, since the experiences of the participants generally is something we have no way of understanding.

  63. Perry Shumway says:

    John and Ray –

    Excellent points. Thanks for your comments. Just what I was looking for.

  64. Perry

    Our Psychology is directly connected to our biology. The brain develops due to genetic instructions. Call me a materialist if you want but I can’t see the point in separating physiology from psychology. Our behavior is a result of genetics due to the fact that the brain is a product of genes. No outside force necessary. The Lord is just that smart. Get the ball rolling and the rest works itself out. I don’t know why I am posting this but I thought I would respond.

  65. John W. — Your incipient determinism seems inimical not only to Mormonism’s basic commitments to me, but inconsistent with any sense of moral freedom and responsibility as well. Further, suggesting that behavior is just genetics is a reduction that just hasn’t and can’t be shown. In other words, I suggesting that you go waaaayy beyond what any evidence actually does or could justify.

  66. Having served a mission in the South I know for a fact that Baptists know a lot about Mormonism. They have workshops on how to deal with Mormons. These include both videos on Mormonism and books dealing with Mormon theology. I think that Huckabee is a bit dishonest when He says he doesn’t know much about Mormonism. He is after all a Baptist minister.

  67. (From http://www.boston.com/news/nation/articles/2007/12/12/huckabee_questions_tenet_of_romneys_mormon_faith/ ):

    Religious scholars said under Mormonism all of God’s children are brothers and sisters, including Jesus and Satan, but Satan would be considered a disinherited member of God’s family who was cast out of God’s presence for eternity.

    “Spiritually, all God’s children are brothers and sisters, so Huckabee would also be the brother of Satan,” said Francis Beckwith, who teaches a course on politics and religion at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.

    “The way it was expressed by Huckabee is a crude way of putting something that is more complicated than that,” he said. “It would be like saying under Catholicism they eat Jesus’ flesh. It’s a sensationalist way of presenting it.”

    If all Huckabee knows about Mormonism comes from evangelically apologetic anti-LDS workshops, he can honestly say he doesn’t know that much about the topic (unless for extra credit he had studied books on the topic by Beckwith).

  68. An old standby with anti- minority-religion stuff is to apply “reductio adantijudaismdum” so that In a parallel universe somewhere Huckabee had been asked by the NY Times, “Since your denomination’s literature teaches that aspects of Hassidic Jadaism renders it a cult, do you yourself, governor, hold this revered tradition as a cult or a religion?”

    To which Mike had responded, “Although I on one occasion attended this workshop that probably touched on that idea pretty superficially, I don’t consider this makes me very knowledgeable about Hassidic theology, you know? I mean, from what I remember, doesn’t Hassidic theology have a Kabbalistic teaching that Arch-angels and Satanic-angels are both thought to be sent forth from the throne of The Name(/Jehovah), which, if I remember right, is a point of controversy with standard evangelicalism? But, as I said, especially due to my lack of comparative religion scholarship, I don’t think it is appropriate for me to be examing what would essentially evangelical Christian pastoral theological issues in my political campaign for the American presidency.”

  69. Anon the second,
    I can’t tell if you are for Huckabee or against him, but if he had answered the question in this universe as thoroughly as he did in your universe I’d have more respect for him.

  70. Yeah, I did a better job for him, huh, lol.

    Anywho today’s NYT has an op-ed piece quoting Larry J. Sabato, a University of Virginia political scientist, that describes apologies such as Huckabee’s as “nonapology apologies…. They’re proving they’re not sincere by continuing to raise the subjects. Once you apologize, you should avoid the subject like the plague…. It’s no accident they continue to bring these things up [due the…] strong prejudice among many fundamentalist Christians against Mormonism.” http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/14/us/politics/14clinton.html?_r=2&ref=politics&oref=slogin&oref=slogin

  71. I hope I can stick with the Republican party as I find the libertarians to be too permissive when it comes to social issues: in other words allowing so much “freedom” that the rights of those who promote evil infringe on the rights of others to protect themselves and their families from it.

    Sometimes I wonder how those who make this kind of a statement can claim to be at peace with the idea that we basically chose, in the pre-mortal existence, to follow a plan that allows those who promote evil to infringe on the rights of others to protect themselves and their families from it.

    I think we were eventually convinced that the negative effects of that infringement could and would be completely negated by the atonement of the Savior, and so we decided we could live with that, since it would only be a temporary situation.

  72. Who,

    The fact that behavior is a result of the brain which is in turn the result of genetics in no way eliminates free will. One works with the brain one has. My point is this; the brain is a biological organ just like the heart. It therefore makes sense to me that our behavior is connected directly to the physical. If God used evolution to bring the human race into being then it only makes sense that the same evolutionary forces influence behavior. This should in no way diminish free will or the Lords influence in our lives.

    John W.

  73. Actually, John W., it totally does. You don’t control the way your heart functions. It is on automatic. If you are arguing that all of our mental functions are also on automatic, then that’s determinism.

  74. The brain and the heart don’t work in the same way. I am sure you know that. The brain is wired to be plastic in its ability to adjust to outside influences. To what do you attribute our ability to make moral decisions? Does it not make sense that it is in a social groups best interest and thus the best interest of those who can reproduce to be good to each other? Blaming bad behavior on an evil outside source simplifies the process and takes the heat of the person committing sin. “The Devil made me do it” doesn’t do it for me. Our doctrine states that we live in a material world overseen by a material God. A God that came to be on a world in which he was tested just as we are being tested. Unless there is some “super” God that is immaterial that got the whole ball rolling I have to come to the conclusion that our God works within the confines of material laws. What better way to create a habitable world then to let evolution fill all the niches so as to give his greatest creatures (us) a nice place to be tested. I don’t know why this idea would make anyone uncomfortable.

    John

  75. Except that we do believe that there is a devil that tempts us to do evil. You are asserting certainties where we have speculation at best.

  76. Do you really think that a guy who lost out on his proposal for the plan of salvation would be so angry as to spend billions of years trying to take as many people as possible down with him? My mother can’t even keep a grudge for a week let alone millennia. And who are “we”. Mormonism is a rainbow of beliefs as it should be.

  77. John W, I accept evolution and I don’t accept “the devil made me do it” – but eliminating Lucifer as a real entity is NOT within the scope of our doctrine. It is a very radical approach, actually. I would be willing to make an intellectual argument for interpreting his existence as figurative and allegorical, but I would not be able to make that assertion as doctrinal.

  78. This also has moved far beyond the intent of the thread – and, John W, it is starting to turn personal. I’m getting out of the way.

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